If solar energy is so great, why are solar panels so inefficient?
Why does it seem like solar panels are inefficient at converting the energy from the sun to electricity?
Regardless of the current situation, the future of earth lies in solar power.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
Solar panels are not very efficient because they can only be made of silicon photovoltaic cells.
Silicon is one of the least efficient semiconductors available.
This means that to make enough electricity for your house using solar power, you would need a huge surface area of solar panels, around 100 square feet per person.
Solar panels are also usually only made out of monocrystalline silicon solar cells which has a very high cost to produce.
The type used in most photovoltaic cells is polycrystalline silicon.
There have been new advances in the last year that are allowing more efficient solar cells to be made using thin-film solar panels and amorphous silicon solar panels, but these still don’t compare to the efficiency of other types of solar technologies.
What is Solar Efficiency?
Solar cell efficiency refers to the amount of energy in the form of sunshine that can be turned into electricity by the solar cell using the photovoltaic effect.
Likewise, the percentage of the sun’s energy transformed into electricity is referred to as solar panel efficiency.
How Much Sunlight Can Solar Panels Convert Into Electricity?
Solar cells also degrade very quickly, losing about 5% of their voltage each year.
This means you would need regular maintenance to keep them in good condition.
Solar panels are not able to convert sunlight into energy at a 100% efficiency rate.
They can, however, convert around 25% of incoming solar radiation into electricity.
Solar panels also lose speed as they get hotter and the sun is stronger in different parts of the world.
The angle of the sun is why solar panels on roofs are not very efficient because they don’t face the sun directly.
The amount of power solar panels produce is also reduced by about 50% when it’s cloudy or hazy, which is why Germany doesn’t get much electricity from the sun even though they have a lot of solar panels.
The good news is that scientists are working on new technologies to increase solar panels efficiency.
In a world where fossil fuels have been so widely used, why are solar panels not more efficient?
As it turns out, there is a good reason why solar cells aren’t used in all applications.
In general, producing energy through photosynthesis is an astonishingly inefficient process.
One reason why producing energy through photosynthesis is inefficient is because energy from photons of blue light penetrates deeper into leaves than red light.
To compensate for the fact that most solar cells are made to absorb red light, materials that can absorb blue light are added to the cells.
However, this brings up another problem: how much material do you add to make the solar cell efficient?
Most of these pigment molecules used for absorbing blue light are fairly expensive (like $30/gram), so it would be nice if the molecule only contributed to about half of the solar cell.
In other words, if you can use a certain pigment molecule to absorb blue light and make a greater efficiency solar cell, why not only use 1% of that amount?
This is why scientists have been looking towards organic dyes as alternatives for use in solar cells.
Organic dyes are much cheaper than traditional organic pigments, and several different dyes have been tested, each having a different efficiency.
With concentrations as low as 0.01%, scientists have been able to quadruple the total amount of light absorbed by the solar cell.
In conclusion, why solar panels are not more efficient comes down to two things: why blue light penetrates deeper in leaves, and why are organic dyes more efficient than other pigments.
Is the Size of a Solar Panel Important?
The most basic explanation for why solar panels’ size matters, is that the more photons a photovoltaic cell receives in a given amount of time, the more electricity it can produce.
As its name indicates, the most important part of a solar panel is its cells.
A photovoltaic cell absorbs sunlight and converts it into electricity through a chemical reaction.
This is likely also why solar panels are also often referred to as solar cells.
Each photovoltaic cell has a certain amount of power it can produce at a given time.
So, to obtain the maximum energy from a set number of solar cells, you need them to be small enough so that they fit within your solar panel design, but they also have to be big enough so they can all receive as much light from the sun as is necessary.
In other words, a set of solar cells with a total power output of 100 watts means nothing without information about how large those solar cells are.
To achieve maximum efficiency and electricity production rates, you have to have the right number of solar cells in a certain size.
How Big a Solar Panel Should Be?
We’re aware that panels can come in various sizes.
They can be used either by NASA or the average everyday homeowner.
Is the size of a solar panel important?
In most cases, panels can be a bit massive, but that mostly applies to panels used either in space or solar farms, with thickness at around 10 or 11 inches.
But when it comes to the usage in a regular home, that is where things change a little bit.
The size of the house does play a part when it comes down to how much amount of solar energy is needed to supply it.
Two ways you can measure solar panels are both by their physical size and also the power rating, with the secondly mentioned measurement you have to pay very close attention to.
Much like light bulbs, the strength of the solar battery is measured in watts, so the physical size of the battery should not play a major role but rather its amount of watts.
The average size of the solar system in the US is 5kw or 5 000 watts, which is often made of many solar panels.
For the most average-sized home a small solar panel system with efficient solar panels can be more than enough.
Comparison Between Single Solar Cells and Solar Panels
In addition to helping you determine how big your solar panel needs to be, knowing the wattage of high-efficiency solar cells allows you to compare different solar panels by dividing that 100-watt value by the wattage of each solar cell.
For example, if the wattage of each cell is 16 watts, then your 100-watt solar panel would be made up of four separate cells for a total of four solar cells in the whole panel.
Instead of seeing this as 100 divided by 16––the wattage of each cell––you can calculate it as 100 divided by 4––the number of cells in the solar panel.
This means that each one of your four cells is producing 25 watts, which is a much better deal than buying a 100-watt solar panel with just one cell inside.
Other factors affect individual solar panels’ wattage production rates, but this proportion between the number of solar cells inside a panel and its overall wattage is one of the most critical elements towards its performance.
One thing that may complicate this calculation, however, is that some companies list their panels’ wattage per square meter.
This makes it difficult to compare the output rates between panels because it doesn’t look at how many individual solar cells you have in each panel.
What Is the Maximum Amount of Power Solar Panels Can Produce?
Suppose you’re an energy analyst and wanted to know the maximum amount of power a certain commercial building could produce from its photovoltaic installation. You would first need to know how much space the solar panels cover––let’s say 1,000 square meters ––because energy analysts typically think in terms of areas.
Next, you can look at the wattage of each solar cell to determine how much total power the installation will have––in this case 1,000 watts.
Finally, you divide 1,000 watts by the wattage of each cell. This gives you information about how many cells are in each panel. In this case, your commercial building has a total of 1,000 divided by 100––a total of 10 panels.
Now that you know the number and size of panels on your installation, you can start to analyze its performance. You could look at how many hours per day it produces electricity during average weather conditions or compare different installations based on their performance rate.
This information may be crucial for you to determine whether or not it is worth upgrading the existing installation, implementing more solar panels, adding different types of renewable energy, etc.
How Much Does it Cost to Install Solar Panels?
One of the research studies shows that a few years ago in Virginia, the cost of installing the solar panels was 300,000$, you have to keep in mind that the life span of solar panels is between 10-15 years.
In that case, the end project will only be able to pay half of the investment, and when put on paper to count the costs of everything, was it all worth it?
The cost of solar power can be more than 200$, while coal is between 53-63$, and with those numbers in mind, one can’t help but feel a bit concerned about the prices despite wanting the best for the environment.
In the end, you can’t blame an average worker for choosing to keep more money in their pocket, since everyone’s livelihood comes first, no matter how much they’re aware of the common uses of solar panels.
The answer might be a bit obvious if one will consider things from a logical perspective.
It is quite simple: the distance of the Sun matters.
And also the limited amount of sunlight we receive during the daytime is the key as well since with current technologies there are several issues.
As it’s well known, the sun does radiate a large amount of solar energy which can be indeed converted into electricity.
To add to this, there is another way to produce electricity from solar power and that is to heat fluids using sun energy and with that, you can drive the turbines to produce electricity.
But it’s quite costly and not very effective so we strongly advise you not to go for this choice unless you’re willing to take the risk.
The major factor that can affect the efficiency of solar panels is also weather conditions and seasons, as we’re all aware in some of the countries around the world during fall and winter seasons days become drastically shorter.
Considering everything means that the panels will be able to store a rather small amount of solar power that may not be enough for everyday use.
So before installing the panel, it’s strongly advised to consider the area in which you live, for example, most Nordic countries have a rough winter season so for them this sort of energy source is highly inefficient.
The last thing anyone wants is to suddenly face a fall season without enough electricity to keep themselves warm or even brew a cup of coffee.
How Does Location Affect the Efficiency of a Solar Panel?
The first two points we have made might sound a bit discouraging, still, there are plenty of ways you can still use the solar panel but an ideal location is necessary.
Locations without sufficient sunlight cannot guarantee the efficient use of solar power.
Factors you must keep in mind when installing solar panels are local weather, time of the year, and finally the latitude of your home.
The peak time for the use of panels is of course during the summer seasons when temperatures around the world are the highest.
Another relevant factor you should consider is what sort of roof you have or what kind do you plan to build?
Carefully consider the pitch or aka the angle of your roof, ideally, the right angle can make the most of the panel and absorb plentiful solar energy.
Of course, you should avoid shade as much as possible.
To do that, try avoiding building a home or weekend retreat in an overly forested area.
But if you still want to continue make sure to trim the area of your choosing.
Despite being quite an effective renewable energy source, solar power itself needs to be used right away.
Many know that solar panels have large batteries that come with them in the same package.
During the daytime batteries can charge with ease and yes, of course, you can use them all day long and night if needed.
Nobody is stopping you from using the electricity based on solar energy through the night, however, one must keep in mind how much is that going to cost?
The best thing you could do is to freely use solar power during the daytime and limit the usage to the minimum in the nighttime.
Thankfully, energy isn’t overly necessary during the nighttime since, for the most part, you will most likely be in the cozy warmth of your bed.
Furthermore, you have to be aware that the average lifespan of the solar battery is around 5 to 15 years, which only means it will have to be frequently replaced during the lifespan of your solar panel, and that can indeed cost.
Another useful piece of information we would like to share is that current batteries on the market are made from lithium-ion batteries, used in mobile phones, just bigger.
So for this point, we just want to put emphasis on proper usage and to be mindful of how to properly split the energy during your day and night, but if that is not enough there are indeed other ways to store energy, just make sure to do your homework.
Do Solar Farms Negatively Impact the Environment?
Even though solar energy is one of the most commonly recommended renewable sources, it harms the environment.
When building up solar farms you have to consider the area, and tragically it does happen that for having solar farms to be built, often the natural environment has to be cut down.
This means the land itself will be damaged and habitats of the wildlife will also be affected in the said process.
A dangerously hazardous material is another strong disadvantage when building up solar panels, that some people may find hard to believe.
The PV cells themselves contain a large number of toxic chemicals which do include a variety of acids that can cause a threat to the environment and even workers who might inhale them by accident.
These materials must be taken care of or disposed of as they should be, otherwise, we could face dangers to public health.
Believe it or not, there is also a danger of emissions in regards to different stages of creating solar panels.
These stages include the manufacturing process, transportation, regular maintenance, installation, and finally decomposition.
In one of our previous points we did mention that the lifespan of the solar panels is limited, so during this limited time take into consideration how much damage they could bring if not properly used or installed.
Balance Is The Key
While we did mention several strong points that would throw you off from the path of giving solar panels a try you should not completely give up on that!
Current technology is still behind to properly enhance and use solar energy so a piece of honest advice is to use both solar or any other not extremely harmful energy source for your home.
In the future, there is still a good chance that solar energy will improve with new and upcoming technology.
One of those upcoming technologies or features is the gallium-arsenide triple-junction cells which can easily have high resistance to moisture and radiation, performs well in low light, and above all is quite light and flexible!
Another important factor when owning a solar panel for your own home and its solo usage is how well you take care of it.
To keep its efficiency high it’s important to keep the panel clean and far from the shade, on those factors, unlike the weather, you can easily influence.
Much like in any residential area, you only have very limited influence and if you truly wish to depend on the solar panel, don’t be afraid to experiment and see how can you improve its efficiency and make it work for as long as possible.
When it comes to specific answers to the question of the solar panels are inefficient or not– the answers are unclear and it’s still up to debate.
There are far too many variables that can affect the efficiency of solar panels, which can both be taken as benefits or dangers.
However, when using in the housing area, you still need to put on paper what is most important to you and how to split the costs and usage.
The environment is important.
Keeping our planet and energy free of pollution as well.
But one has to be realistic about his abilities and do only as much as he can without endangering his livelihood.
Finally, we can only say that you should definitively stay informed on the current trends that are going on about solar panels, carefully do your research and then decide what suits your lifestyle the best.