A solar cell or photovoltaic cell is a device that converts light energy into electrical energy. Sometimes the term solar cell is reserved for devices intended specifically to capture energy from sunlight, while the term photovoltaic cell is used when the light source is unspecified.
Fundamentally, the device needs to fulfill only two functions: photogeneration of charge carriers (electrons and holes) in a light-absorbing material, and separation of the charge carriers to a conductive contact that will transmit the electricity (simply put, carrying electrons off through a metal contact into a wire or other circuit). This conversion is called the photovoltaic effect, and the field of research related to solar cells is known as photovoltaics.
Solar cells have many applications. They have long been used in situations where electrical power from the grid is unavailable, such as in remote area power systems, Earth-orbiting satellites and space probes, consumer systems, e.g. handheld calculators or wrist watches, remote radiotelephones and water pumping applications. More recently, solar cells are starting to be used in assemblies of solar modules (photovoltaic arrays) connected to the electricity grid through an inverter, often in combination with a net metering arrangement.