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How Solar Electricity or Photovoltaics (PV) Works
A typical silicon PV cell is composed of a thin wafer consisting of an ultra-thin layer of phosphorus-doped (N-type) silicon on top of a thicker layer of boron-doped (P-type) silicon. An electrical field is created near the top surface of the cell where these two materials are in contact, called the P-N junction. When sunlight strikes the surface of a PV cell, this electrical field provides momentum and direction to light-stimulated electrons, resulting in a flow of current when the solar cell is connected to an electrical load.

Regardless of size, a typical silicon PV cell produces about 0.5 - 0.6 volt DC under open-circuit, no-load conditions. The current (and power) output of a PV cell depends on its efficiency and size (surface area), and is proportional to the intensity of sunlight striking the surface of the cell. For example, under peak sunlight conditions a typical commercial PV cell with a surface area of 160 cm2 (~25 in2) will produce about 2 watts peak power. If the sunlight intensity were 40 percent of peak, this cell would produce about 0.8 watts.

The Components of a PV Array

Components of Photovoltaic Array

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

There are three different levels of a photovoltaic (PV) array:
A PV module is actually made up of interconnected smaller photovoltaic cells, which are typically rated at 1-2 watts. These PV modules or panels, which are made of PV cells, can be interconnected with more modules to produce what is called a solar array.

A racking system attaches the solar array to the roof of a building or house. On a pitched roof, a flush mount is installed. If the roof is flat with no pitch, a ballasted system is typically used. There are also ground mounted arrays as well as pole mounted arrays.
The ideal orientation for a solar array is south facing. This helps maximize the amount of light captured throughout the year without having to reorient the entire array. Solar arrays can be installed on east and west facing roofs as well. It should be noted that there will be some amount of energy harvest loss with solar arrays that face east or west— an energy harvest estimate can better assess energy output. The pitch of the array is dependent of the pitch of the roof. Another important factor in assessing array location is shading. There should not be any shading over a solar array, as this will reduce electric production as well as harm the solar module.

Solar arrays are quite robust and are typically rated to withstand 100 mph winds and 1 inch sized hail.

Balance of System
A solar array is only one of many components that make up a solar system. The rest of the system is called the Balance of System. The balance of system includes all of the other components of the solar installation. This includes all of the wiring and conduit, the inverter, disconnects, breaker box, and PV and electric meters.

The illustration below depicts the flow of electricity in a solar system.

Solar Sytem Diagram

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