Solar Panel Efficiency

Step-by-step guide to installing solar panelsSolar panel efficiency is crucial for obtaining the desired output from your solar-powered system. If you wish to start using solar panels as your source of electric, you may want to learn more about what efficiency you can expect to get with different types of solar panels, especially if you are planning to equip your home with solar energy on your own, or using your own calculations.

Solar panel efficiency is an indicator of how much sunlight a panel can absorb, and how much of the absorbed sunlight it can convert into electricity. Every single solar panel has a certain maximum power point, and a particular average efficiency rate. The costs of solar-powered systems can be expressed through the ratio of price per received kilowatt-hour (kWh). On average, a cell with 10% efficiency and a 100 cm2 surface can produce around 1 watt of power.

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One of the main factors that influence solar panel efficiency is the material used in making them.

Efficiency of a Solar Panel with Different Materials:

  • Experimental multiple-junction cells: 40-42% efficiency (not yet available commercially),
  • Monocrystalline silicon cells: 14-17%,
  • Polycrystalline silicon cells: 13-15%,
  • Amorphous silicon cells: 5-7%,
  • Organic dye-sensitized solar cells: 3-5% (up to 10%).

The efficiency of different materials used in solar panels varies from 3-5% (organic dye-sensitized cells) to 40-42% (experimental multiple-junction cells). The most efficient cells are not always the most economical (e.g., the most efficient experimental solar cells can cost 100 times more than an amorphous silicon cell, and deliver only 4 times the power). The most important factor is the cost-effectiveness and the production volume of any solar material, as cheaper materials are often more cost-effective than the most expensive ones.

The efficiency losses result from the following main features of the material used in a panel: reflectance, thermodynamic efficiency, recombination and electrical resistance. These parameters are difficult to measure directly, and therefore, other parameters are usually measured instead, such as: thermodynamic efficiency limit, quantum efficiency, VOC (volts open-circuit) ratio, and FF (fill factor). Solar power can be boosted by around 15% by employing "concentrator systems" with concentrating optics. However, these systems are only beginning to become competitive in cost.

Specific materials used in solar cells (i.e., multiple band gap absorbers) can help to achieve higher solar panel efficiency, and the most efficient material used in commercial solar cells is currently monocrystalline silicon.

There are many other factors that influence the efficiency of solar panels, which include: the material used in the cells, the amount of sun and the amount of shade over a panel (trees, cloud cover, etc.), the location of the sun in the sky, and the tilt of the panel against the sun. Other factors that can influence solar panel efficiency include dust: if dust builds up on the glass surface of a solar panel, its efficiency will decrease.

The peak efficiency of any panel will be reached when the panel is tilted facing the sun on the solar noon on a clear sunny day (it may be in the spring, summer, autumn, or winter in different areas of the world).

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