There is a lot of talk about increasing solar panel efficiency, but what does this mean? Is waiting for more efficient modules worth holding back on converting your home?
How does a solar panel work?
If you look at a solar panel you will see very fine wires embedded in the black silicon. Sunlight causes silicon to release electrons, which is electrical energy. These tiny wires play a role in the collection and transporting the electrons to your home. Yet these small wires block the sunlight from interacting with the silicon. In other words, they shade a part of the solar cell. In fact to get the most harvest from a silicon cell well over half the module becomes shaded.
What efficiency can I expect from a solar panel?
Most solar panels on the market today produce anywhere from 15 to 20 percent efficiency. This means that the total solar energy from our sun goes unharvested. Well at least at the surface of the solar panel. So all that we do to collect the solar energy you need is to make the panels larger in surface area. A 300-watt panel is only 3 feet by 5 feet even at 20% efficiency.
How does efficiency affect solar power systems?
The solar power system at your home requires solar energy from your array to operate. The surface area of the panels collecting this energy has no effect on the ability to power your home. Fact is that any excess energy produced after your needs is not used. Today’s arrays should be capable of producing more than your needs. Why because your home power demands are not constant minute by minute.
Demand for higher efficiency solar modules
Adding different elements to the silicon increase efficiencies. But these substances carry a high price. Arsenic and other toxic substances threaten the environment. Manufacturing costs also increase. Efficiencies that do not cause a substantial increase in the cost of solar panels. Along with harmful environmental issues will stop the race towards higher output panels.
Is efficiency the end goal?
Today you drive a car that is at best 25 to 30 percent efficient. Why because cars are convenient. If you get a chance look at the efficiency of a bicycle according to Wikipedia, they are 98% and better in efficiency. But are they convenient? There will always be a balance between efficiency and convenience. Don expect a huge increase in solar efficient modules soon, as long as the prices are conveniently low.