Introduction to Photovoltaics


A comprehensive overview of photovoltaic technology and systems, beginning with the how PV cells work up through the functioning of different types of systems, including off-grid and grid-tied systems of various scales, different types of PV arrays, systems with integrated battery storage, etc. The economics of PV systems are also covered, as well as larger issues such as the ultimate potential of PV for combatting Climate Change. See further details below.


How you ever wondering how photovoltaic cells and/or systems actually work? Or about the differences in efficiency and other other aspects between different types of PV cells? Or how to determine how much useable energy a given PV system design will produce? Or the differences between grid-tied and off-grid systems? Or how energy storage can be incorporated in PV systems? Or how the economics of PV systems work out? Or about bigger questions, such as what the true worldwide potential for PV in mitigating Climate Change is?

If so, then this is the course for you. Taught by an experienced physics teacher with special expertise in renewable energy and a love of teaching newcomers to the subject, this course will lay plain the field of photovoltaics and enable you to hold your own with the best. At the end will be able to rapidly estimate the production of a PV system, and discuss its economics and other features.  And it will enable you to respond to myriad other questions that commonly arise about photovoltaics. This will empower you to advocate effectively for PV, market PV, design PV systems, etc. To be clear, this course will not teach you how to install systems in detail – that’s a much more involved and narrow set of technical skills that require hands-on experience, ideally under the supervision of a certified solar-electrician. But if your ultimate interest is installation work, or advocacy or sales work, etc, this course will nonetheless broadly educate you about PV, and lay the foundation for further training.

Sample slide from the course explaining how the doping of silicon creates a built-in electric field in silicon PV cells, which field plays a key role in the Photovoltaic Effect, that is, the effect by which sunlight falling on a PV cell creates a voltage difference from which power (and hence energy) can be derived.

This course is illustrated with many photos and discussions of real PV systems as well as the underlying science. This photo shows a “polycrystalline” type PV array in New Mexico. Slightly less efficient (~13% as compared with ~15% at the time), but also slightly cheaper (by about 15% at the time), than monocrystalline PV, with about the same longevity. Also note the spaces left at the lower and upper edges of the installation, left intentionally in this case for firefighting access, an issue which can significantly limit the capacity of a system, sometimes prompting the use of higher efficiency modules (which are now often more than 21% efficient).  Photo by Dr. Ben.

It is recommended, although not required, that you take our Electricity & Electronics Fundamentals course before taking this course, or afters if necessary. This will make certain concepts in this course, such as the current-voltage curves for PV cells, a bit easier to grasp.

Course Format: To ensure an effective and interactive learning experience, this course, as well as all courses taught by Renewable Energy Now!, are taught in live-Zoom classes. Online assignments are also provided for participants to complete on their own.  To remain in good standing for the Certificate of Completion, participants must attend fully attend all Zoom sessions and maintain proper “netiquette”, including keeping one’s camera on, although non-identifying, innocuous “Zoom names” may be used. Please make sure in advance that you are able to attend all the sessions of a course and that you have adequate internet service to Zoom (including with video) before registering. Please also see the larger discussion of our Professional Netiquette Rules for more detail.

Dates and Times:  Course times are designed to facilitate those with full-time day jobs. (Please let us know however if this does not match your availability, so that we might accommodate you at a later date). Our next offering of this course will take place on:

  • Dates: October 17-19 (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), 2022.
  • Times: 7-9 pm, EST, with a short break in the middle.

After You Register: You will be directed to a page at which you can download a course registration certificate.  Save this in a safe place, or print it out. You will also be sent a Zoom link about 1 week before the course. Simply join the class via Zoom when the time comes (see Course Format & Rules below). If you lose your confirmation or Zoom link, contact us by email at Finally, you will be guided to the course resources and the assignments for the course before or during the first Zoom class.

Refunds:  Refunds may be obtained for registration cancellations up to 24 hours before the beginning of a course. No refunds will be issued after that point for any reason. Your registration will be fully refunded at any time should REN! need to cancel or prematurely terminate a course for any reason.

Professional Online Etiquette: Participants are expected to maintain an attitude of respectfulness and professionalism throughout course sessions.  Instructors reserve the right to remove a participant for unruly behavior without providing a refund. Such removal may occur promptly and without further explanation after an initial warning is issued and a second violation occurs. All sessions will be recorded for documentation purposes but will not be shared with participants or publicly in any manner, unless subject to court order. Your privacy, security, and right to learn in a safe, supportive environment are paramount to us!