How Efficient Are Solar Panels?
Over the last decade, there’s been tremendous growth and innovation in solar energy. And as technology has improved, so has the efficiency of solar panels.
The efficiency of a solar panel refers to its ability to convert sunlight into usable energy. In recent years, the average efficiency of solar panels was around 15 percent. Today, thanks to advancements in photovoltaic (PV) technology, the average is between 15 and 22 percent, with high-efficiency panels surpassing even that.
How solar panel efficiency is measured
So, just how is solar efficiency measured?
As noted above, efficiency is expressed as a percentage. For example, if a panel’s efficiency is 15 percent, this means 15 percent of the light hitting the panel will be turned into energy. The more efficient the solar panel, the more energy output.
Technological advances not only increase the efficiency of solar panels, they drive down costs, and allow utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.
Progress in solar panel efficiency
In 1954, researchers at Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first solar panel by using it to power a toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. From these humble beginnings, solar inventions took off.
Most recently, in 2017, Japanese researchers set a new efficiency record for mass-produced solar panels, reaching an efficiency rating of 26.6 percent
Today, the most common (and most affordable) panels operate between 15 and 20 percent efficiency.
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.
Thanks to the improvements in efficiency, solar will become even more cost-competitive over the next several years. The cost of solar PV has fallen by 90 percent in the last decade and, by 2030, it’s expected that solar generation costs will fall below all other energy sources.
New panel technologies will continue to improve efficiency, with efficiency averages nearing 30 and 40 percent by the end of this decade.