Photovoltaic solar panels absorb sunlight as a source of energy to generate direct current electricity. A photovoltaic (PV) module is a packaged, connected assembly of photovoltaic solar cells available in different voltages and wattages. Photovoltaic modules constitute the photovoltaic array of a photovoltaic system that generates and supplies solar electricity in commercial and residential applications. The most common application of solar energy collection outside agriculture is solar water heating systems.
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, a battery pack for energy storage, charge controller, interconnection wiring, circuit breakers, fuses, disconnect switches, voltage meters, and optionally a solar tracking mechanism. Equipment is carefully selected to optimize output, energy storage, reduce power loss during power transmission, and conversion from direct current to alternating current.
Each module is rated by its DC output power under standard test conditions (STC), and 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. There are a few commercially available solar modules that exceed efficiency of 24%.
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. This has been projected to be capable of raising efficiency by 50%.