Solar photovoltaic (pv) modules generate electricity from sunlight, which can be fed into the mains electricity supply of a building or sold to the public electricity grid. Reducing the need for fossil fuel generation, the growing grid-connected solar PV sector across the globe is helping create jobs, enabling families and businesses to save money, and cut greenhouse emissions.
PV modules use semiconductor materials to generate dc electricity from sunlight. A large area is needed to collect as much sunlight as possible, so the semiconductor is either made into thin, flat, crystalline cells, or deposited as a very thin continuous layer onto a support material. The cells are wired together and sealed into a weatherproof module, with electrical connectors added. Modern modules for grid connection usually have between 48 and 72 cells and produce dc voltages of typically 25 to 40 volts, with a rated output (see box) of between 150 and 250 Wp.
In order to supply electricity into a mains electricity system, the dc output from the module must be converted to ac at the correct voltage and frequency. An electronic inverter is used to do this. Generally a number of PV modules are connected in series to provide a higher dc voltage to the inverter input, and sometimes several of these ‘series strings’ are connected in parallel, so that a single inverter can be used for 50 or more modules. Modern inverters are very efficient (typically 97%), and use electronic control systems to ensure that the PV array keeps working at its optimum voltage. They also incorporate safety systems as required in the country of use.