Solar Panel Efficiency
In recent years, as technology has improved, so has the efficiency of solar panels. The efficiency of a panel refers to its ability to convert sunlight into usable energy. Scientists are constantly working toward mechanically optimizing solar panel cells to make them more efficient at capturing energy. Technological advances not only increase the efficiency of solar panels, they drive down costs, and allow utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.
So how is solar efficiency measured? It is expressed as a percentage. For example, if a panel has 15 percent efficiency, that means that 15 percent of the light that hits the panel will be turned into energy. The average efficiency rating for solar panels on the market now is 15-18 percent. The more efficient the solar panels are, the more energy output, and ultimately more savings for the homeowner.
Inclement weather impacts the efficiency of solar panels and is unable to be controlled. So when researchers and scientists look to make solar increasingly more efficient at providing energy, they look to the mechanics within the panels because that technology is able to be controlled and optimized.
History of Solar Panel Efficiency
In 1954, researchers at Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first practical silicon solar cell. They revealed the first solar panel by using it to power a small toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. Solar inventions took off from there and the future remains bright for the industry. Improving solar efficiency has been and continues to be a focus for the scientific community.
- 1957-1960: Hoffman Electronics made a number of breakthroughs with photovoltaic (PV) electricity and improved efficiency from 8 percent to 14 percent.
- 1985: University of South Wales achieved 20 percent efficiency for silicon cells.
- 1999:The National Energy Renewable Laboratory collaborated with SpectroLab Inc. to create a solar cell with 33.3 percent efficiency.
- 2016: The University of South Wales broke that record again in 2016 when researchers reached 34.5 percent efficiency.
Scientists around the world are working toward 40 percent efficiency, but the higher the efficiency, the higher the cost of the system. The most affordable residential and commercial panels operate between 15 and 18 percent efficiency. The top-performing panels on the market can reach around 21-22 percent efficiency, but come at a price. However, the efficiency rating of a solar panel isn’t the deciding factor when choosing the panels for your PV system. The watt rating is just as important to consider.
In 2017, researchers in Japan set a new efficiency record for mass-produced solar panels, reaching an efficiency rating of 26.6 percent. Panasonic had previously held the record, set in 2015, with an efficiency rating of 22.04%.
What’s Next in Solar Panel Efficiency?
The past few years have been an exciting time for improvements in solar panel efficiency. Great strides have been made and there is plenty of room for growth.
The International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic Results predicts that by 2027, the average solar panel will carry the same record-setting efficiency rate Japanese researches reached at around 26 percent. Scientists will continue to evaluate the assembling of cells together into modules and how the current is extracted from silicone. They’ll also look at how to improve cell contact structures.
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