Most people fail to realize that photovoltaics (PV) has been playing a part in their lives for quite some time. Solar panels are used to produce hot water or even steam. Photovoltaic panels convert the sunlight directly into electricity. A typical example of a device powered by photovoltaic cells is a solar powered calculator. It is powered by a tiny solar module. PV has been powering all the satellites that transmit data and countless phone calls for many years. In fact, the whole space industry, including the International Space Station has always been relying on photovoltaic cells for all their power. Worldwide the swing to PV for supplementing national grids has been phenomenal during recent years.
PV is a fact of modern life.
Solar power is our most abundant natural resource. The solar power shining on an area of only about 20km x 20km is greater than the peak capacity of all the power plants on earth! PV on only 7% of the roofs in South Africa could supply our total electrical energy requirement. A clean, quit and long lasting PV array covering less than half the roof of a modern home can power every appliance inside. The photovoltaic process is completely solid-state and self-contained. There are no moving parts and no materials are consumed or emitted. Pretty amazing if you think about it!
The price of PV modules has come down by nearly 75% in the last 5 years, making PV more and more affordable and cost-effective for a variety of applications. Every price reduction expands the market for PV and furthers its replacing the polluting technologies. The yearly increases in Eskom supplied electricity means that the payback period of PV systems becomes shorter with every year that passes. For remote applications, PV is unsurpassed. Grid-connected systems can already have a return-on-investment in the region of 4 years. As for reliability, over 50 years of success in space plus the same period of use on earth are proof enough that photovoltaics is on its way to becoming as commonplace as the electric light.