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A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect, which is a physical and chemical phenomenon. It is a form of photoelectric cell, defined as a device whose electrical characteristics, such as current, voltage, or resistance, vary when exposed to light. Individual solar cell devices can be combined to form modules, otherwise known as solar panels. In basic terms a single junction silicon solar cell can produce a maximum open-circuit voltage of approximately 0.5 to 0.6 volts.

Solar cells are described as being photovoltaic, irrespective of whether the source is sunlight or an artificial light. They are used as a photo detector (for example infrared detectors), detecting light or other electromagnetic radiation near the visible range, or measuring light intensity.

The operation of a photovoltaic (PV) cell requires three basic attributes:

*The absorption of light, generating either electron-hole pairs or exactions.

*The separation of charge carriers of opposite types.

*The separate extraction of those carriers to an external circuit.


In contrast, a solar thermal collector supplies heat by absorbing sunlight, for the purpose of either direct heating or indirect electrical power generation from heat. A "photo electrolytic cell" (photoelectrochemical cell), on the other hand, refers either to a type of photovoltaic cell (like that developed by Edmond Becquerel and modern dye-sensitized solar cells), or to a device that splits water directly into hydrogen and oxygen using only solar illumination.

Theory Schematic of charge collection by solar cells. Light transmits through transparent conducting electrode creating electron hole pairs, which are collected by both the electrodes.


Photons in sunlight hit the solar panel and are absorbed by semiconducting materials, such as silicon.

Electrons are excited from their current molecular/atomic orbital. Once excited an electron can either dissipate the energy as heat and return to its orbital or travel through the cell until it reaches an electrode. Current flows through the material to cancel the potential and this electricity is captured. The chemical bonds of the material are vital for this process to work, and usually silicon is used in two layers, one layer being doped with boron, the other phosphorus. These layers have different chemical electric charges and subsequently both drive and direct the current of electrons.

An array of solar cells converts solar energy into a usable amount of direct current (DC) electricity.

An inverter can convert the power to alternating current (AC).

The most commonly known solar cell is configured as a large-area p–n junction made from silicon. Other possible solar cell types are organic solar cells, dye sensitized solar cells, perovskite solar cells, quantum dot solar cells etc. The illuminated side of a solar cell generally has a transparent conducting film for allowing light to enter into active material and to collect the generated charge carriers. Typically, films with high transmittance and high electrical conductance such as indium tin oxide, conducting polymers or conducting nanowire networks are used for the purpose