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Photovoltaic Energy

Photovoltaic is the direct conversion of light energy, usually sunlight into electrical energy using solarcells. The term derives from the Greek word phos meaning light and the word volt, the unit for electrical voltage named by Alessandro Volta. Photovoltaic is a part of the field solar technologies. Energy transformation is taking place due to the photoelectric effect of the solar cells, which are connected into a solar module.

The electricity produced can be used directly or can be injected into the conventional grid. Before being injected to the grid, which is operated in alternative current (AC), the continuous current (DC) generated by the solar module has to be converted by an inverter. The installation system combining solar panels and other components such as inverters and the power line is called a "photovoltaic system".

photo voltaic installation
Photovoltaic panels for electrical generation at Lessac, Charente.

In Germany, until 2011, 25.000 MW were installed and connected to the network. For this, Germany is the country with the largest installed PV capacity in the European Union with Spain in second place. The operators of these facilities have the opportunity to refinance their entire PV system from the sale of the energy produced. This allows them to achieve a positive cash flow as the elling price of the PV flow is generally subject to a yearly running contract (from 10 to 20 years depending the country). In the UK, domestic producers receive a feed-in tarif payment based on the assumption that they will consume half of the electricity that is produced by their installation. In France, the system is quite different.

In this country, the dwelling is equipped with three electric meters: one to measure the electricity received from the grid; one to measure the electricity produced by the solar cells and supplied to the grid and one to measure the electricity produced that is not supplied to the grid. This third meter usually reads zero, as it is much more cost-effective to sell all of the electricity at a premium rate and buy back at a lower rate that which is required for the domestic usage. However, increasingly home-owners are turning to auto-consumption systems. In this set-up, there is no contract with EDF and the electricity that is produced is only used for supplying the domestic needs. These systems generally are rated at 1 or 2 kW, which consists of an array of 4 or 8 panels that are either mounted on the roof or on a framework on the ground. As there is no contract with EDF, the installation does not have to be integrated into the roof covering, i.e. take the place of the tiles, but rather like the UK system where the panels sit on a bracket over the tiles. The installation is easier and thus is quicker and cheaper to fit than an integrated set-up. A 1 kW installation would satisfy the running demands of the background domestic consumption during the course of the day. As the house is still connected to the grid in the normal manner any additional demand and for demands during darkness or bad weather would be drawn from the grid.

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