Image of a solar photovoltaic cell

What Is a Photovoltaic Cell?

The heart of all solar power systems lies one crucial component — the photovoltaic (PV) cell. Learn how they work and why they're significant.

It’s no surprise that solar power is a key player in the alternative energy space. But fewer people know that at the heart of all solar power systems lies one crucial component — the photovoltaic (PV) cell. 

If we want to understand the basics of solar power, we need to answer two questions: What is a photovoltaic cell, and how does it work?

In this article, we’ll explore the fundamentals of PV solar cells, how they work and their significance in the solar industry.

[Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Solar Panels]

What Is a Photovoltaic Solar Cell?

So, what is a photovoltaic solar cell?

A photovoltaic cell — aka a solar cell, PV cell, PV solar cell or solar PV cell — is the building block of solar panels. It plays a vital role in solar power generation via a tiny device that converts sunlight into electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect

Note: The word “photovoltaic” comes from the Greek words “phos,” meaning “light,” and “volt,” referring to electricity.

How Does a Photovoltaic Cell Work?

For starters, manufacturers typically make solar cells from a semiconductor material, such as silicon or thin film. This material has a unique ability to convert light energy into electricity. 

The basic operation of a PV cell involves five steps.

  1. Absorbing sunlight. When sunlight (comprising tiny packets of energy called photons) strikes the surface of a PV cell, the cell’s semiconductor material absorbs the photons.
  2. Producing electron-hole pairs. The absorbed photons transfer their energy to electrons within the semiconductor material (such as silicon), causing them to break free from their atoms. This creates electron-hole pairs.
  3. Separating charges. The electric field within the solar cell helps separate the positively charged holes and the negatively charged electrons.
  4. Collecting charge. Metal contacts on the top and bottom solar cell layers collect the separated charge. This allows electrons to flow and creates a direct current (DC) of electricity within the cell.
  5. Generating electrical output. As explained above, PV cells generate DC electricity. This electricity then powers various devices or is stored in a solar battery (such as the SunPower SunVault or Tesla Powerwall). So, to meet the electrical demands of homes or businesses, multiple PV cells interconnect to form a solar panel or solar module.

[Related: What To Know Before Installing Solar Panels]

Advantages of Solar PV Cells

Photovoltaic cells offer many advantages in the alternative energy realm. Let’s explore a few to pinpoint why solar PV cells are so important when it comes to producing sustainable energy via solar power. 

Clean Energy

PV cell-generated solar power is clean, doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels as an energy source. The term “solar” is certainly part of the equation for a reason!

Solar power is undoubtedly one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional energy sources.


Photovoltaic cells are highly scalable. Whether a device as small as a solar calculator or as large as an agrivoltaic farm needs power, they can meet it. 

This versatility makes solar energy both accessible and adaptable for a wealth of applications.

Silent Operation

PV cells operate silently — they produce zero noise pollution. This makes them suitable for not only homes but also areas where noise could pose problems, like wildlife parks and senior living communities

Lower Energy Costs

Using PV cell-generated solar power clearly has upsides when it comes to your wallet.

You can substantially reduce your electricity bills over the long term. Once your panels are fully installed and ready to go, they require minimal maintenance, even while producing electricity for decades.

Backup Power During Outages

In remote areas and during power outages, solar PV cells alongside energy storage systems provide reliable power when you need it most. 

So, if you’re ever in a challenging situation (energy-wise) — whether from inclement weather such as a hurricane, freeze or heat wave — you can lean on energy independence.

Contact Freedom Solar To Harness the Sun’s Energy

Photovoltaic cells are at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. Why? They contain the technology to convert sunlight into electricity. In turn, this paves the way for sustainable power generation — and more importantly, you’ll see major cost savings on your energy bills. 

So, as the demand for alternative energy grows, understanding the PV cell basics becomes increasingly important. What is a photovoltaic solar cell? What is a photovoltaic cell, and how does it work? Knowing the answers gives you a leg up on getting the most out of your solar investment.

With technological advancements and more people adopting solar solutions, solar PV cells continue to drive us toward a more sustainable and resilient energy landscape.

If you’re ready to start harnessing the power of the sun, contact Freedom Solar Power. Call (800) 504-2337 or complete our inquiry form for a free consultation and quote. One of our energy consultants will be in touch!

Featured image via Pixabay