Photovoltaics are cleaner, more flexible, much faster to install, safer, more secure and create far more jobs than all competing forms of fossil fuel energy generation.

Photovoltaics - A Key To Safe, Secure & Reliable Electricity Generation

Peter Lynch


by Peter Lynch

What are Photovoltaics?

Photovoltaics (PV) or solar cells as its name implies is a technology that converts sunlight directly into electricity:  photo = light and voltaic = electricity.

Photovoltaics or solar cells are beginning to show up in many places. The power source for emergency phones on highways (PV is the little module on the top of the pole), wristwatches, desktop calculators, yard lights and increasingly on the rooftops of homes and buildings.

The Current Electric Grid - An antiquated design and a new model needed

The current national electrical system relies upon a few very large centralized generating plants feeding power over long distances to where the power is needed. The key to secure, reliable, flexible and resilient energy generation is an electricity grid, which is based upon a distributed model versus a centralized model. This model would consist of thousands of smaller power generation units producing power close to the location where the power is used and subsequently feeding excess power into the grid. This transition must occur, if we are to have a truly secure (from accidents, natural disasters and terrorism) nationwide power generation system.

This transition may seem unlikely or impossible at this time and it will take many years to unfold. But keep in mind that this exact transition has already occurred, in the computer industry when it moved from centralized mainframe computers to the fully distributed Internet of today. No one believed, 20 years ago, that the personal computer would ever be "more than a toy" or a very limited tool for scientists and engineers. However, today small digital devices are literally everywhere and are attached (with wires or wirelessly) to the worldwide Internet.

Amount the various technologies that could be utilized in a distributed network are: micro & smaller gas turbines, fuel cells, windmills and most unique and flexible, Photovoltaic Solar Cells.

Photovoltaic technology is the most unique because it is totally flexible and scalable. Photovoltaics is like an "energy personal computer" that is, a device or technology that is flexible, lightweight and can be moved anywhere and connected to the power grid to upload power to the grid or utilized at the point of generation.

The Advantages of Photovoltaics

Photovoltaics have a number of unique advantages:

  1.  No moving parts, minimal maintenance
  2.  Safe operation
  3.  Simple to operate
  4.  High dependability, durable and long life (30+ years)
  5.  Scaleable - watts to megawatts (wristwatches to homes to towns)
  6.  Silent operation
  7.  Maximum output coincident with peak utility power loads (summer time)
  8.  No emissions, no pollution
  9.  Portable, easy and fast to install anywhere
  10.  Available everywhere there is sunlight.
  11. Ability to integrate into existing and new buildings

How do Photovoltaics work?

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are currently made of semiconductor materials such as silicon, which is the most commonly used material. When light strikes the material (solar cell), a certain portion of it is absorbed within the cell material. The energy of the absorbed light (photons) is transferred to the semiconductor. This energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely. This flow of electrons creates an electrical current, and by placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the PV cell, this current can be drawn off to use externally to charge a battery, power a device, a home or a small town.

Photovoltaic cells can be utilized individually for small applications, like calculators and watches. If more power is needed a number of cells are put together to form a module. If more power is needed, the modules are grouped together to form arrays. These arrays can range from a small number of modules to power a home to thousands of modules to power a town.

Current Photovoltaics (PV) Industry

The worldwide PV industry is currently $3.5 billion. It has been growing at 30% annually since 1997 and is projected to grow to $27.5 billion by 2012. At this growth rate, the Photovoltaics industry will become the world's fastest growing industry over the next 10 to 20 years.

Additional Economic Benefit of Photovoltaics Technology:

  1. Job creation and diversity
  2. Dramatic reduction in pollution emissions

Job Creation  - Compared with fossil fuel energy technologies, the photovoltaic industry creates far more jobs per dollar invested. For example: investment in photovoltaics creates:

  1. 8 times more jobs than oil and gas exploration
  2. 5 times more jobs than the natural gas utilities
  3. 2.5 times more jobs than the coal industry

Job Diversity: Photovoltaics, creates a much greater diversity of jobs than competing fossil fuel  industries.

For example, PV increases jobs in the following areas: carpenters, sheet metal workers, electricians, welders, technicians, roofers and homebuilders.

Dramatic Reduction in Pollution Emissions: Photovoltaics are orders of magnitude (10 to 100's of times) cleaner than any of the other alternatives in pollution emissions and in the amount of energy it takes to produce a generating facility. For example, in terms of pollution emissions SOx (sulfur dioxide), NOx (nitrogen oxide) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) Photovoltaics is:

  1. 170 times cleaner than coal and 85 times cleaner than oil in emissions of SOx
  2. 250 times cleaner than coal and 125 times cleaner than oil in emissions of NOx
  3. 60 times cleaner than coal and 50 times cleaner than oil in emissions of CO2

The Bottom Line:

Photovoltaics are cleaner, more flexible, much faster to install, safer, more secure and create far more jobs than all competing forms of fossil fuel energy generation.

How PV fits in with the coming Hydrogen Economy

"Yes, my friends, I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel, that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which coal is not capable….water will be the coal of the future".

                                                                                                 Jules Verne, Mysterious Island 1874.

You may not have noticed, but the age of oil has passed and the age of hydrogen is just in the beginning of its early years. The combination of Solar/Renewable Energy, unlimited source of power with Hydrogen (unlimited supply) will be the future of our world. Like it or not, there are very few, if any realistic alternatives. Especially when you take into account the heavy hidden costs of fossil fuels i.e. air pollution, global warming, health problems and water pollution.

"The stone age did not end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil".

                                                                                                   Don Huberts, CEO Shell Hydrogen.

In my opinion, the hydrogen economy is the next great cyclical wave for our civilization, and possibly the most significant mankind will ever face. It will drive the U.S. and the world's economy for decades to come.

Even though hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It does not really exist in a form that can be easily acquired. It exists as part of something else (water, natural gas, methanol etc.) as a result it must be extracted from these other substances and that requires energy.

Here in lies the dilemma.

If we use fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, propane, methanol etc.) to supply the energy to extract the hydrogen we are NOT really addressing the problem. We just postpone the day of crisis. We are still burning fossil fuels, polluting the atmosphere, compounding health problems, jeopardizing our national security and delaying the inevitable transition to the hydrogen economy.

The OPTIMAL solution is for the energy needed to extract hydrogen to come from a renewable source of energy (wind or one of the other forms of solar energy) and be produced at the actual site for use of the hydrogen. This will greatly simplify the necessary infrastructure and dramatically reduce the projected costs of the transition to the hydrogen economy. For example: you could have a hydrogen production station powered by PV and matched with fuel cells at every current  "gas station" to top off the hydrogen fueled cars of the future.

This is where Photovoltaics will play an important role. As the price of PV continues to drop and the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise this role will expand even more dramatically.  It is the only technology that has the flexibility and scalability to be used anywhere. Wind can and will be used in very large scale and centralized "wind farms", only PV can be used in an unlimited numbers of places, for an unlimited number of uses at any scale necessary.

Mr. Lynch has worked, for 27 years as an independent equity analyst and investor in small emerging technology companies. He has been actively involved in following developments in the renewable energy sector since 1977 and is regarded as an expert in this field. He was the contributing editor for the past 17 years to the Photovoltaic Insider Report, the leading publication in PV that was directed at industrial subscribers, such as major energy companies, utilities and governments around the world. He is currently a consultant to a number of companies, among them DayStar Technologies (, a small public company developing the next generation of Photovoltaics. He can be reached via e-mail at:

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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