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Solar PV - turning sunlight into electricity

You often hear the term 'solar PV' but what does it mean? The 'PV' stands for photovoltaic which literally means 'light electricity'. Solar cells, or PV cells, rely on the photovoltaic effect to absorb the sun's energy and convert it to electricity. This makes them different to solar hot water systems which use the sun's energy to heat water directly as it's circulated across a rooftop, usually in a series of tubes.

The photovoltaic effect was first observed back in 1839 but it was more than a century before PV cells were first developed for commercial use by the space industry. Along the way the photovoltaic effect was studied by one of the world's leading scientists, Albert Einstein, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his research in 1921.

In the 1970s rapidly rising oil prices created a need for alternative energy sources boosting the development of solar power technology. In the last 20 years the efficiency of PV cells and solar panels has increased and the prices have dropped. This means in some countries, like New Zealand, solar power is becoming one of the cheaper forms of energy.

When solarcity started back in 1974 we were developing solar hot water systems. While that's still part of our business we're now concentrating on solar PV systems. We are New Zealand's leading solar energy services company and over the last 35 years we've installed more solar energy systems on Kiwi homes and businesses than any other company.