The photovoltaic effect is the basic physical process through which a PV (solar) cell converts sunlight into electricity. Sunlight is composed of photons--packets of solar energy.
These photons contain different amounts of energy that correspond to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When photons strike a PV cell, they may be reflected or absorbed, or they may pass right through. The absorbed photons generate electricity.
French physicist Edmond Becquerel first described the photovoltaic (PV) effect in 1839.
The effect was first studied in solids, such as selenium, by Heinrich Hertz in the 1870s.
In the 1940’s, Selenium PV cells were converting light to electricity at 1% to 2% efficiency.
Commercializing PV began when the Czochralski process was developed for producing highly pure crystalline silicon. In 1954, Bell Laboratories depended on the Czochralski process to develop the first crystalline silicon photovoltaic cell, which had an efficiency of 4%.
After 1960 the silicon solar cell became the standard energy source for applications in space.
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