Hope for the future:
What exactly is photovoltaics?

Have you ever thought about generating electricity at home with a photovoltaic system? If so, you’re in good company. Photovoltaic systems are experiencing a major boom in Switzerland. Renewable solar power has never been so much in the spotlight of public interest as it is today. This should come as no surprise considering the major challenges we face due to global warming.

If we want to meet our climate targets, such as those specified in the Paris Climate Protocol ratified by Switzerland or in the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050, we need to gradually replace fossil and nuclear energy sources with new renewable energies over the next few years. We need photovoltaics to achieve this goal.

Generating electricity from sunlight

But what exactly is photovoltaics? Imagine the sun as a highly efficient energy generator that can draw on a virtually limitless supply of constantly renewing resources for energy production. The energy that is created inside the sun through nuclear fusion reaches the earth in the form of sunlight.

Photovoltaics is the term used to describe the technology with which the energy of sunlight can be converted directly into electricity. The electricity generated in this way can be used directly, fed into electricity grids or stored in rechargeable electricity storage units such as accumulators.

From space travel to the calculator

The photoelectric effect on which photovoltaics is based was discovered as early as 1839, but it would take over 100 years before the first practical application was created. In the 1950s, photovoltaics literally took to the skies in space travel – the first satellite with solar cells was launched into orbit in 1958. As of the 1980s, more and more research was conducted into photovoltaics and the fields of application expanded. Students at that time may remember solar-powered calculators, which were very popular back then.

Huge potential

Photovoltaics is now widely used throughout the country to generate electricity. Roof-mounted solar systems are the most popular type of system in Switzerland. Façades and unconventional surfaces, such as avalanche barriers or noise barriers, however, are also being used more and more frequently. The production potential of solar power is certainly huge: according to Swissolar and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, it could theoretically meet Switzerland’s entire annual electricity consumption.

Ecological, efficient, affordable

Photovoltaics offers three main advantages that make it so extremely attractive as a key technology for the future: the first thing that grabs our attention is the positive energy balance. Very few resources are needed to operate PV systems – which is good for the environment. Impressively, during its service life of at least 25 years, a PV system produces 15 to 20 times more energy than was needed for its production. The second thing to note is the low costs. Price reductions and financial subsidies now mean that new photovoltaic electricity offers attractive prices. Last but not least, PV systems comply with good recyclability requirements. Photovoltaic modules contain virtually no hazardous substances but do contain a large number of recyclable materials that can be reused.

Good partnership

To ensure that photovoltaics in Switzerland is expanded in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible, Swissolar, the Swiss umbrella association for solar energy, joined the SENS eRecycling system back in 2013. We work together to ensure that decommissioned PV modules are properly disposed of.