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Light Generative Current

Photovoltaic Cell_122620A
[Photovoltaic Cell - Images Si]

- Photovoltaic Cells – Generating Electricity

Light travels in packets of energy called photons. The generation of electric current happens inside the depletion zone of the PN junction. The depletion region is the area around the PN junction where the electrons from the N-type silicon, have diffused into the holes of the P-type material.

When a photon of light is absorbed by one of these atoms in the N-Type silicon it will dislodge an electron, creating a free electron and a hole. The free electron and hole has sufficient energy to jump out of the depletion zone. If a wire is connected from the cathode (N-type silicon) to the anode (P-type silicon) electrons will flow through the wire. The electron is attracted to the positive charge of the P-type material and travels through the external load (meter) creating a flow of electric current. The hole created by the dislodged electron is attracted to the negative charge of N-type material and migrates to the back electrical contact. As the electron enters the P-type silicon from the back electrical contact it combines with the hole restoring the electrical neutrality.


- Two Processes for The Light Generative Current

The generation of current in a solar cell involves two key processes. The first process is the absorption of incident photons to create electron-hole pairs. Electron-hole pairs will be generated in the solar cell provided that the incident photon has an energy greater than that of the band gap. However, electrons (in the p-type material), and holes (in the n-type material) are meta-stable and will only exist, on average, for a length of time equal to the minority carrier lifetime before they recombine. If the carrier recombines, then the light-generated electron-hole pair is lost and no current or power can be generated.  

A second process, the collection of these carriers by the p-n junction, prevents this recombination by using a p-n junction to spatially separate the electron and the hole. The carriers are separated by the action of the electric field existing at the p-n junction. If the light-generated minority carrier reaches the p-n junction, it is swept across the junction by the electric field at the junction, where it is now a majority carrier. If the emitter and base of the solar cell are connected together (i.e., if the solar cell is short-circuited), the light-generated carriers flow through the external circuit. The ideal flow at short circuit is shown in the animation below.


- Band Gap

An important property of PV semiconductors is the band gap, which indicates what wavelengths of light the material can absorb and convert to electrical energy. If the semiconductor’s band gap matches the wavelengths of light shining on the PV cell, then that cell can efficiently make use of all the available energy.

A band gap is the distance between the valence band of electrons and the conduction band. The valence band is the band of electron orbitals that electrons can jump out of, moving into the conduction band when excited. The valence band is simply the outermost electron orbital of an atom of any specific material that electrons actually occupy. This is closely related to the idea of the valence electron.

Essentially, the band gap represents the minimum energy that is required to excite an electron up to a state in the conduction band where it can participate in conduction. The lower energy level is the valence band, and thus if a gap exists between this level and the higher energy conduction band, energy must be input for electrons to become free. The size and existence of this band gap allows one to visualize the difference between conductors, semiconductors, and insulators. 



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