Converting the sun’s radiation directly into electricity is done by solar cells. These cells are made of semiconducting materials similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaics (PV) is thus the field of technology and research related to the application of solar cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity.
Solar cells, which were originally developed for space applications in the 1950s, are used in consumer products (such as calculators or watches), mounted on roofs of houses or assembled into large power stations. Today, the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid-connected power generation, but a smaller market for off-grid power is growing for remote areas and developing countries.
Given the enormous potential of solar energy, photovoltaics may well become a major source of clean electricity in the future. However, for this to happen, the electricity generation costs for PV systems need to be reduced and the efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity needs to increase. To achieve this, the Commission supports photovoltaics development since many years by funding research projects and facilitating cooperation between stakeholders.