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For solar thermal panels, see solar thermal energy.

Photovoltaic modules use light energy (photons) from the Sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. Most modules use wafer-based crystalline silicon cells or thin-film cells. The structural (load carrying) member of a module can be either the top layer or the back layer. Cells must be protected from mechanical damage and moisture. Most modules are rigid, but semi-flexible ones based on thin-film cells are also available. The cells are connected electrically in series, one to another to the desired voltage, and then in parallel to increase amperage. The wattage of the module is the mathematical product of the voltage and the amperage of the module. The manufacture specifications on solar panels are obtained under standard condition which is not the real operating condition the solar panels are exposed to on the installation site.

A PV junction box is attached to the back of the solar panel and functions as its output interface. External connections for most photovoltaic modules use MC4 connectors to facilitate easy weatherproof connections to the rest of the system. A USB power interface can also be used.

Each module is rated by its DC output power under standard test conditions

Each module is rated by its DC output power under standard test conditions (STC) and hence the on field output power might vary. Power typically ranges from 100 to 365 Watts (W). The efficiency of a module determines the area of a module given the same rated output – an 8% efficient 230 W module will have twice the area of a 16% efficient 230 W module. Some commercially available solar modules exceed 24% efficiency.[11] [12]

Depending on construction, photovoltaic modules can produce electricity from a range of frequencies of light, but usually cannot cover the entire solar range (specifically, ultraviolet, infrared and low or diffused light). Hence, much of the incident sunlight energy is wasted by solar modules, and they can give far higher efficiencies if illuminated with monochromatic light. Therefore, another design concept is to split the light into six to eight different wavelength ranges that will produce a different color of light, and direct the beams onto different cells tuned to those ranges.[13] This has been projected to be capable of raising efficiency by 50%.

A single solar module can produce only a limited amount of power; most installations contain multiple modules adding voltages or current to the wiring and PV system. A photovoltaic system typically includes an array of photovoltaic modules, an inverter.


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