Photovoltaic Effect vs. Photoelectric Effect

Last Updated on July 11th, 2023

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When it comes to solar panel technology and sunlight energy collection, there are going to be a pair of photon-charged processes that occur upon the instance that lightly touches the panel. 

First, the photovoltaic effect occurs when sunlight hits the solar panel creating a chemical and physical event within the semiconductor parts of the panels, which causes the doping process to activate, causing a polar charged PN junction situation.

The electrons want to jump from the solar side to the cool, creating an electric charge.  

The photoelectric effect is when sunlight hits a metallic emitter plate in a vacuum. Electrons are ejected off the metal surface across the tube and collected by the collector plate.

What are the Differences?

To start, there will be a major difference in the process, more so that photoelectric experiments helped scientists create the photovoltaic materials used in solar panels today. 

Photoelectric emission can only be collected in a vacuum environment, free from outside light disruption, which can be tricky to produce and maintain.

Photovoltaic solar panels use the energy from the sun to heat up the upper portions of the cells, which creates the PN junction between the now hot cells and the cooler cells below.

Since the solar cells are tightly packed enough to create a ‘vacuum-like’ area for electrons to safely jump from the positive side to the cooler negatively charged cells. 


What are the Similarities?

The similarities come down to the basics of solar reactions and effects. For instance, the two of these processes require the presence of sunlight. 

Same as each other, the instant the light touches the materials, the processes begin; for the photoelectric effects, a reflection of light into a vacuum can emit an electron for collection. 

Similar to the heated cells pushing electrons to the vacuum-like PN junction area, the electricity created can be collected for the electrons to jump. Lastly, each process will have a chemical and physical reaction to which these effects can be understood. 


Pros and Cons: Photovoltaic Effect vs. Photoelectric Effect

The overwhelming con for the photoelectric effect would be the difficulty in maintaining a dark, vacuum environment which makes this an unfavorable method, even expensive to a degree. 

However, the pro was that this method was the result of years of scientific experimentation and led to the creation of today’s photovoltaic technologies. 

The pro for these photovoltaic solar cell panels will be the rather inexpensive nature in which they are manufactured, and the flexibility in types and forms has been a creative point within the industry. 

The con will be the expert considered inefficiency of today’s solar panels, to which they continue to innovate and invent new ways for better energy collection. 


Which One is More Common?

This is kind of a tricky question, not in the process of separating from one another, not quite the opposite, actually. 

The photoelectric effect occurs upon the panels, reflected by various parts upon the surface of the cells, but also within the PN junction created between the cells of the solar panels. 

The photovoltaic effect occurs when the sun’s light heats the upper solar cells, and the darkened materials then create the right environment for electrons to jump between the cells and produce an electric charge. 

This will lead to the conclusion that the photoelectric effect takes place more often than the photovoltaic process. 


Which One is More Efficient?

This will be overwhelmingly in favor of the photovoltaic process, which can be reproduced more easily and cost-effectively than the photoelectric effect. 

Not to mention, when only relying on the chance that an electron or three can be emitted from a metallic plate to be sent across a ‘hopefully’ darkened vacuum space to be collected will be risky at best. 

The solar cells in today’s panels are so tightly packed that there is little chance of any lost electrons, not to mention heating a coil is much easier and more effective than just light refraction alone concerning the sun’s light. 


Final Thoughts on Photovoltaic Effect vs. Photoelectric Effect

There are going to be many different types of solar collection technologies on the market today, but there have been as many innovations as possible in this area of energy production. 

From small portable solar collection stations to large solar farms using linked panels to even the solar home with energy-producing roof tiles that act like solar panels. 

Just keep in mind that this will be an investment in the long term means after a few years, the panels will pay for themselves, even creating a passive source of income when the house is using minimal power. 


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