Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Efficiency Modeled

solar pv

Solar photovoltaic (PV) is an energy technology that turns sunlight directly into electricity. It is often characterized as “clean, green, and renewable.”

solar PV  is made of semiconductor material. Sunlight that strikes a PV cell can reflect off the surface, pass through the semiconductor, or be absorbed and dislodged electrons. Only the absorbed electrons provide the electric current that generates electricity. Special treatment of the front surface of the semiconductor makes it more receptive to the dislodged electrons, allowing them to migrate from the semiconductor material to the cell’s metal conductors.

When the absorbed electrons reach the metal conductors, they combine with other free electrons to form electrical currents that flow through the cell and into an external circuit. The electric current generated by a PV panel depends on the amount of sunlight that it absorbs and its temperature. The modeled efficiency of the solar PV system is a function of both of these factors.

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For two years, NREL researchers collected and analyzed data at a six-acre agrivoltaic solar farm and sheep pasture on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. They simulated the operation of a utility-scale PV array that tilts to follow the Sun throughout the day. They also simulated the energy and capacity market revenues that the array could earn, as well as the avoided climate change and public health costs associated with the displacement of fossil fuel emissions.

The study results show that without the avoided emissions benefits, an unsubsidized PV investment does not break even in the United States until 2026 at most of the pricing nodes modeled. However, when the health and climate benefits are factored in, the PV system breaks even in 30 percent of the nodes.

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