Background on Photovoltaics
The direct conversion of sunlight into electricity, the photovoltaic (PV) effect, was first observed almost two centuries ago by the French scientist, Edmond Becquerel. However, it took the development of quantum theory in the early 20th century before the phenomenon could be explained and practical photovoltaic devices manufactured.
In the last three decades decreasing manufacturing costs and increased efficiency have opened new markets for photovoltaic technologies. Remote communication equipment, navigational aids, railroad switching systems, and irrigation are just a few of the areas where photovoltaics are being used. Solar electric systems also provide power in urban settings for bus shelters, street lighting, safety lighting and warning signs. In the residential sector, remote homes are using photovoltaic (PV) systems as an alternative to the high cost of extending power lines or running engine generators. Some utility companies now finance photovoltaic systems for their rural customers. Other utilities are experimenting with roof top photovoltaic systems for distributed generation of electricity.
The newest application of photovoltaics is called building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and it offers the greatest hope for commercialisation of on-site power generation. Building integrated photovoltaics incorporates photovoltaic modules directly into a building by replacing conventional building materials such as roof tiles, curtain walls and rain screens with photovoltaic modules.