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Published on Aug 6, 2009
Solar cells, also called photovoltaics (PV) by solar cell scientists, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are often used to power calculators and watches. The performance of a solar cell is measured in terms of its efficiency at turning sunlight into electricity. Only sunlight of certain energies will work efficiently to create electricity, and much of it is reflected or absorbed by the material that make up the cell. Because of this, a typical commercial solar cell has an efficiency of 15%—about one-sixth of the sunlight striking the cell generates electricity. Low efficiencies mean that larger arrays are needed, and that means higher cost. Improving solar cell efficiencies while holding down the cost per cell is an important goal of the PV industry, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and other U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, and they have made significant progress. The first solar cells, built in the 1950s, had efficiencies of less than 4%. For a text version of this video visit http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_photo...