in which two dissimilar
materials in close contact act as an electric cell
or other radiant energy
Light striking such crystals as silicon or germanium, in which electrons are usually not free
to move from atom to atom within the crystal, provides the energy needed to free some
electrons from their bound condition. Free electrons cross the junction between two
dissimilar crystals more easily in one direction than in the other, giving one side of the
junction a negative charge and, therefore, a negative voltage with respect to the other
side, just as one electrode of a battery has a negative voltage with respect to the other.
The photovoltaic battery can continue to provide voltage and current as long as light
continues to fall on the two materials. This current can be used to measure the brightness
of the incident light or as a source of power in an electrical circuit, as in the modern solar
A solar battery is a combination of many individual photovoltaic cells. One composed of two
different types of silicon crystals, when exposed to sunlight outside the Earth's atmosphere, can capture 14 percent of the incident energy and supply 170 watts per
square metre (16 watts per square foot) of the contact area between the two materials.