How to get to 50% solar panel conversion efficiency? Sunovate celebrates its first demo project
Solar panel developers have long recognised the detrimental effects heat has on cell performance — an ironic sunny side effect. Australian company Sunovate has designed a cooling system that boosts energy output, and harnesses all that hot air.
Sunovate Air-O-Voltaic five-panel PVT array.
Serial renewable-energy entrepreneur Glen Ryan’s new company, Sunovate, listed in this year’s World Energy Congress SET#100, has switched on its first photovoltaic thermal (PVT) array on a house in Perth — “Early indications are that we’re getting well over 50% conversion efficiency, so that’s really exciting for us,” says Ryan.
The patented system uses air to evenly cool the panels to a level consistent with the Standard Temperature Conditions — 25 degrees Celsius — at which solar panels are tested, allowing them to constantly perform at their best.
Sunovate’s ‘Air-O-Voltaic’ set up also captures the heat generated by rooftop solar systems, to efficiently heat space (homes, offices) and water (hot water tanks, pools), or to integrate with heat pumps for industrial and commercial applications.
The system is solar-panel agnostic using any standard panels fixed to a heat-exchanger layer; which rests on a cassette that incorporates the ducting to circulate air for cooling the panels, and channels collected hot air back to a centralised fan and distribution system.
“We call it value stacking,” says Ryan.
Cooling air in, hot air out
“The beauty of using air,” he told pv magazine, is that it allows Sunovate to service multiple “customers” from the one system: “We can service directly into a house with ducted warm air; we can peel a little bit of that heat off into a heat exchanger to heat a pool or a thermal storage tank or into a heat pump. And we can cascade those customers, servicing a number of them at the same time.”
An optimisation algorithm will control distribution and storage of heat and energy depending on home user needs and commercial processes and usage patterns.
Although the initial demonstration system is a residential installation, Ryan and his co-founder Cesira Leigh have produced a small run of 50 Air-O-Voltaic units with investor funding and are in discussions with universities, a brewery, a multi-facility Australian company and mining companies, to roll out to different sites and further validate system performance.
The partners see potential in manufacturers such as dairies and breweries which use heat sterilisation processes; fodder companies that use heat to sterilise pellets; agricultural enterprises that need to dry their produce, and other heat-utilising enterprises.
Scaling up to reduce costs
“Initially we’ll target commercial clients,” says Ryan, “to get some results at scale.
“We’ll also be doing some more domestic demonstrators to explore various, simple ducting configurations,” to suit different roof architectures.
Sunovate Air-O-Voltaic can be retrofitted to existing residential arrays, but Ryan and Leigh are hoping to achieve scale with commercial clients in the first instance, which will bring down unit costs and payback periods.
Ryan maintains, “Unless we can deliver a return on investment of three to five years payback, it’s pointless continuing the discussion,” although he says early adopters such as councils and universities may be prepared to work on up to 10 years’ payback.
Glen and his brother Shawn were the dynamic and determined duo behind the Bombora Wave Energy Converter, which they conceived of in 2007, and which recently established European operations in Wales, in the UK, with a European Regional Development Fund grant of £10.3 million.
The brothers are no longer involved with Bombora and Glen, a mechanical engineer who has worked in underground mining construction and wind prospecting, says his move into solar energy came about when he installed a 3 kW PV system on his domestic roof and found it never delivered 3kW, especially on searingly hot Western Australian summer days — “In the middle of summer, it was struggling to make 2kW,” he says.
“Then I started to learn a little bit more about thermal de-rating.”
Although solar efficiency at Standard Temperature Conditions is pushing through the 21% barrier at the high end of the solar-panel market, most panels are rated around 17% efficient, and in hot, sunny conditions their performance can drop back to 13-14%.
“Panels heat up 20-30 degrees in sunlight, which isn’t good for cell performance,” Martin Green, Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales, and Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, told pv magazine earlier this year.
Why give solar panels the chill treament?
“They prefer to operate in a refrigerator — the cooler the better,” said Green, “because the parasitic effects of the chemical reactions increase with higher temperatures, so the cooler you operate them the better.”
Green is working on methods to cool solar cells t hat can be incorporated in solar module design and manufacturing. Ryan and Leigh, on the other hand, want to steal the heat.
The ever decreasing cost of solar panels might lead homeowners and commercial customers to simply add panels to compensate for underperformance, a strategy that can work if you have endless roof or ground-mount space.
However, says Ryan, if your rooftop is more space constrained, or as we want to use electricity to power electric vehicles, and generate heat for multiple purposes; and as battery-storage reduce and families and organisations want to solar-power their day-time operation as well as charge batteries for night-time electricity use, consumers will demand greater efficiency from rooftop solar.
Sunovate claims that its Air-O-Voltaic system improves solar panel performance by 300%.
“At the moment,” says Ryan, “you get 100% solar energy coming into the cell which will notionally produce 15% electricity. We boost the electrical performance by cooling the panel, getting at least another 30% — that’s 45% efficiency in total as a minimum, and we expect well over 50% when we combine the electrical and thermal conversion.”
Keeping solar panels cool during operation is also expected to extend their high-performing lifespan.
Green calculates that reducing the operating temperature of solar cells by five degrees will increase the timeframe for solar panels to reach 20% degradation by 40%.
Whether the Sunovate cooling effect will also deliver such a bonus in relation to reduced degradation is yet to be proven. “We believe it will be the case,” says Ryan.
Sunovate is capitalising on its inclusion in the WEC SET#100, by engaging in European markets where the demand for decarbonised heat is on the rise. Many would-be solutions are converging on the opportunity for producing green heat, but Sunovate’s offering is unique among them, says Ryan, who adds, “The sector is only just starting to transition, but it accounts for almost 50% of global final energy demand.”
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Natalie Filatoff has been a journalist and editor for more than 30 years, working successively in the areas of computing, the arts, popular culture and health. Over the past five years she has written primarily about science, technology and renewable energy.
The Solar Panel of the Future
Scientists have developed a solar cell that is capable of converting direct sunlight into electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency — making it, potentially, the most efficient solar cell in the world. Current solar technology only converts electricity with a maximum efficiency of about 25 percent. The impressive cell works by stacking multiple layers of solar hardware into a single cell, each of which absorbs a different aspect of the solar spectrum.
This new tech is innovative compared to other cells in two regards. First, it uses transfer printing, which allowed the scientists to assemble the component parts with a high degree of precision. Second, it uses materials derived from gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates, which are usually reserved for infrared lasers and photodetectors, in order to absorb every part of the direct sunlight.
Matthew Lumb, lead author on the study, stated that our new device is able to unlock the energy stored in the long-wavelength photons, which are lost in conventional solar cells, and therefore provides a pathway to realizing the ultimate multi-junction solar cell.
The Solar Revolution
As with any piece of energy converting technology, in order to maximize the amount of energy produced, one can either increase the quantity of converters, or improve the efficiency of the converters themselves. If this technology is scaled up, solar panels would require roughly half the space to produce the same amount of energy as the systems in place today due to their greater efficiency.
Although producing the initial was expensive, this experiment — and others like it — are crucial to show the upper limits of what is possible in solar technology. It has established a precedent, and the space in the market for another individual to make the cell cost effective.
Solar power already accounts for an increasing amount of energy produced worldwide, and it is becoming ever cheaper. Therefore, it is important to continue to find ways that make solar energy more and more effective so that it can surpass fossil-fuel based energy and become a green energy source capable of helping our planet (and us) to survive the harm we have caused it.
Top 5 Most Efficient Solar Panels (2023 Reviews)
This guide has helped many homeowners learn about solar panel efficiency and can help you make the right choice when deciding on the most efficient option. Let’s get started!
Each product and or company featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Written by Karsten Neumeister
Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person
Reviewed by Melissa Smith
Melissa is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainability studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a nonprofit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral. Learn About This Person
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What Are the Most Efficient Solar Panels?
A solar panel’s efficiency rating tells you how much of the solar energy that hits your panels will be converted into usable electricity for your home. It’s not the only measure of a high-quality solar (PV) panel, but it’s one of the most important ones. Higher efficiency ratings mean your panels will generate more power in all conditions—full sun, partial sun and cloudy weather—which directly correlates to greater energy savings for you.
We’ve looked at every top-rated major solar panel brand and the panel models offered and have determined that the below panel brands have the highest efficiency ratings in the solar industry.
- Maxeon (formerly SunPower): Most Efficient Panels
- LONGi Solar: Best Value
- Jinko Solar: Best Budget Brand
- Canadian Solar: Best Product Selection
- REC: Best Availability
Not all of the panels manufactured by these companies have the same efficiency rating, and some models fluctuate by a few percentage points. Below are the specific models from each manufacturer we found to be the most efficient. Note that there’s a drop-down menu available for each of these brands in case you’re looking for more information.
The Maxeon 6 AC line of panels from Maxeon—which used to be SunPower—is best known for having the highest efficiency rating of any solar panel ever manufactured at 22.8%. Maxeon has been around for more than 35 years and has long had a reputation for outstanding quality and industry-defining technology. We recommend these panels to all homeowners who can afford them. They’re expensive, but they lead to the greatest savings over time and come with one of the best warranties available.
What We Like
The Maxeon 6 line of panels not only have the highest efficiency rating available, but they also now come with a massive 40-year equipment and production warranties, topping any other company we looked into. The standard in the clean energy industry is 25 years of coverage for production and manufacturer defects, and Maxeon offers 40 years of protection for both. That means ultimate peace of mind that your panels will continue performing as expected for decades.
Maxeon and its sister company, SunPower, are also known for their commitment to quality customer service, so we expect that any warranty claim you do make will be honored.
Lastly, for those who care about the appearance of these panels, these are all black without grid lines, so they’re about as sleek as you can get.
What We Don’t Like
The only bad thing we have to say about these Maxeon panels is that they’re more expensive than most other options. We do feel that the quality of the panels is well worth the investment, but they could be prohibitively costly for some solar customers.
Solar Panel Options
Maxeon currently manufactures two different lines of solar panels, both with inverters supplied by Enphase: the Maxeon 6 panels (AC) and the Maxeon 3 panels (DC).
- Maxeon 6 panels: As mentioned above, these panels have the highest efficiency rating in the industry at 22.8%. They generate the most power in all conditions of any other panel, and they’re backed by an incredible 40-year warranty. The 6 is a slightly more efficient solar panel than the 3.
- Maxeon 3 panels: Maxeon 3 panels have efficiency ratings up to 22.7%, but depending on the size of the panel you choose, that could be as low as 21.2%. The larger panel sizes come with the same 40-year warranty, but the smaller ones have the industry standard 25-year warranty.
All Maxeon panels come with at least 25 years of coverage for manufacturer defects and performance, but all of the Maxeon 6 panels and some of the Maxeon 3 options include the company’s 40-year warranty. This covers manufacturer defects and related issues, and it guarantees that your panels will retain 88.3% of their original efficiency in year 40. This coverage is far superior to the industry standard 25-year warranty.
Maxeon is going through some changes and is working on making its sister company SunPower its exclusive installer. However, SunPower currently outsources installation to certified third-party solar companies. There are local installation companies that are able to install Maxeon panels in all 50 states.
Founded in 2000, LONGi is the largest solar panel manufacturer in the world, with a market capitalization nearly triple that of any competitor. Not only is LONGi one of the most successful manufacturers, but it also manages to provide outstanding value at below-average costs. The Hi-Mo 6 Scientist panels from LONGi deliver top-of-the-line efficiency ratings, and although the warranty isn’t quite as good as other panels, the upfront savings you’ll see more than make up for it, in our opinion.
What We Like
The Hi-Mo 6 panels reach efficiencies of 22.6%, nearly matching the industry leader. That means LONGi solar panels will help bring down your energy bills more than most other brands on a monthly and annual basis. Best of all, LONGi panels cost around 2.40 per watt, which is well below what other brands at this efficiency rating and quality cost.
LONGi panels have a low power tolerance, which is a measurement of expected power production differential in real-world situations. The industry average is.5%/5%, and the Hi-Mo 6 Scientist model boasts a.3%/3% differential. That means you’ll see a lower production rate fluctuation, ultimately helping to maximize your energy savings over time.
What We Don’t Like
LONGi panels don’t have the best warranty coverage, which is really the only major downside to the brand. The Hi-Mo 6 Scientist panels come with only a 15-year warranty for manufacturer defects, whereas the industry standard is 25 years. The power production guarantee does meet the standard 25-year coverage, although the expected remaining efficiency rating after that time (88.9%) is a bit lower than some other brands that guarantee 92%.
Solar Panel Options
LONGi’s most recent innovation, the Hi-Mo 6 line of panels, is phasing out the Hi-Mo 4 and Hi-Mo 5 product lines. There are four different options within the new Hi-Mo 6 lineup.
|Efficiency Rating||Panel Type||Estimated Cost Per Watt||Power||Warranty||Best For|
|Hi-Mo 6 Scientist||Up to 22.6%||Monocrystalline||2.40||580W to 590W||15 to 25 years||Maximum efficiency|
|Hi-Mo 6 Explorer||Up to 22.1%||Monocrystalline||2.40||560W to 570W||15 to 25 years||Extreme climates|
|Hi-Mo 6 Guardian||N/A||Monocrystalline||2.40||N/A||15 to 25 years||Self-optimization|
|Hi-Mo 6 Artist||N/A||Monocrystalline||2.40||N/A||15 to 25 years||Unique appearance|
Of the manufacturers with the highest panel efficiencies, LONGi is the least impressive. It covers manufacturer defects for 15 years compared to the 25-year standard. The power production warranty—which helps ensure you continue to save money on your electric bills—is for the industry standard of 25 years. However, it guarantees 88.9% efficiency at the end of the warranty term, whereas other companies guarantee 90% or more.
Unlike Maxeon, LONGi doesn’t have any specific partnerships, so its products are widely available and can be installed by any solar contractor that chooses to offer them.
Jinko Solar is another giant in the industry that provides panels across the globe. It’s best known as a budget brand, although its panels are still considered to be tier-one. We recommend Jinko panels to solar customers who want to keep upfront installation costs down but still get a high-quality brand with an above-average efficiency rating. Much like LONGi, Jinko’s panel warranties aren’t the best.
What We Like
Jinko Solar’s size makes its products widely available throughout the U.S. Without any specific partnerships, its panels are available from hundreds of installers in every state. The average cost per watt for Jinko panels is around 2.25, making it the most affordable high-efficiency solar panel brand on our list.
Despite the low cost, Jinko panels are ranked quite high by PV Evolution Labs (PVEL), suggesting that the panels outperform many other brands in a variety of conditions. With a peak efficiency rating of 22.6%, Jinko’s panels are likely to boost your energy savings over less efficient options, all while saving you money on your installation.
What We Don’t Like
The biggest downside to Jinko Solar’s panels is the warranty coverage. Its performance warranty lasts the standard 25 years, but the degradation in the first year (2.5%) is higher than the industry average of around 2%. Plus, the remaining efficiency at the end of the term is just 80.7%, compared to the typical ~90% in other high-quality brands. The manufacturer’s warranty of 12 years also pales in comparison to the standard 25 years.
Solar Panel Options
Jinko currently manufactures three panel models in its Eagle lineup for U.S. customers: the Eagle G5, the Eagle G4 and the Eagle Continental. There are two additional product lines for other countries—Cheetah and Tiger—which are expected to come to the U.S. after testing.
|Efficiency Rating||Panel Type||Estimated Cost Per Watt||Power||Warranty||Best For|
|Eagle G5||Up to 21.13%||Monocrystalline||2.40||525W to 545W||12 to 25 years||Efficiency for U.S. Customers|
|Eagle G4||Up to 20.96%||Monocrystalline||2.40||380W to 400W||12 to 25 years||Value|
|Eagle Continental||Up to 19.88%||Monocrystalline||2.25||380W to 400W||12 to 25 years||Budget Panels in U.S.|
|Tiger Neo||Up to 22.6%||Monocrystalline||2.40||475W to 635W||12 to 25 years||High Efficiency Rating|
|Cheetah||Up to 20.16%||Monocrystalline||2.25||355W to 410W||12 to 25 years||Budget Panels Outside of U.S.|
Jinko Solar has decent warranty coverage, but it’s not ideal compared to what industry leaders like Maxeon are able to offer. Jinko provides just a 12-year warranty for the equipment and manufacturer defects, which is less than half of the industry average. The power performance warranty lasts for 25 years, which is average, although the solar degradation in that time — close to 20% — is double what you’d see from higher-quality panels.
As one of the world’s largest manufacturers, Jinko doesn’t have any specific partnerships with installers. Any solar panel installation company that chooses to install Jinko panels can do so without any specific certification. That means you should have a wide selection of installers available to you if you specifically want Jinko panels.
Canadian Solar is a large international manufacturer that has been in business since 2001, so it has more than 20 years of experience. Its products provide an outstanding blend of quality and affordability, although the average price per watt is a little above average. We’d recommend Canadian Solar panels to homeowners looking to balance power output with affordability.
What We Like
Canadian Solar not only manufactures one of the highest-efficiency panel models available, but it also provides budget options—specifically, polycrystalline solar panels with a lower efficiency. This helps keep solar as accessible as possible, which we love to see from any manufacturer.
The warranty coverage available for newer models is all in line with the industry standard in terms of length, so you should get decades of useful life and energy savings out of the company’s products.
Finally, Canadian Solar offers more than just panels. It serves other manufacturers with raw materials that help speed up the production and increase quality of off-brand products, as well as keep industry costs down. Overall, the company has a positive impact on the solar space.
What We Don’t Like
The warranty coverage for everything other than the new HiHero product lineup isn’t up to the industry standards. The HiHero panels come with an above-average 30-year performance warranty plus the typical 25 years of coverage for things like manufacturer defects. The efficiency remaining after the warranty term is below average, though, at 84.8%. Most other models only come with a 15-year equipment warranty, but they do have the standard 25-year coverage for equipment issues.
Solar Panel Options
Canadian Solar has a pretty impressive lineup of panels that fall within two product lines: the HiKu line and the HiHero line.
|Efficiency Rating||Panel Type||Estimated Cost Per Watt||Power||Warranty||Best For|
|HiKu||Up to 19.4%||Polycrystalline or Monocrystalline||2.70||360W to 465W||12 to 25 years||Affordability|
|BiHiKu||Up to 20.1%||Polycrystalline or Monocrystalline||2.70||435W to 460W||12 to 25 years||Affordability|
|HiHero||Up to 22.5%||Heterojunction (HJT)||3.20||420W to 445W||25 to 30 years||High Efficiency|
|Hiku 6||Up to 21.3%||Monocrystalline||2.90||445W to 555W||12 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Price|
|BiHiKu 6||Up to 21.4%||Monocrystalline||2.90||520W to 550W||12 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Price|
|HiKu 7||Up to 21.6%||Monocrystalline||3.00||640W to 670W||12 to 25 years||Small Roofs|
|BiHiKu 7||Up to 21.4%||Monocrystalline||2.90||640W to 665W||12 to 25 years||Small Roofs|
|TOPHiKu 6||Up to 21.4%||TOPCon Cell||2.90||420W to 570W||12 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Price|
|TOPBiHiKu 6||Up to 21.4%||TOPCon Cell||2.90||555W to 575W||12 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Price|
|TOPBiHiKu 7||Up to 21.4%||TOPCon Cell||2.90||615W to 695W||12 to 30 years||Small Roofs|
If you purchase the highest-efficiency panels from Canadian Solar—the HiHero model—you get a standard 25-year product warranty plus a 30-year power production guarantee. The degradation is more significant in these panels than average at this price point, but the warranty length is still better than most companies offer.
Other models come with a 12-year product warranty, which is less than half of what most other manufacturers provide. Most come with a 25-year production warranty—again with a faster rate of efficiency degradation than average—except for the TOPBiHiKu 7 model, which gets a 30-year efficiency warranty.
Canadian Solar doesn’t have any specific partnerships with U.S. installers, so its products are available in most areas from a massive selection of contractors. Plus, Canadian Solar is one of the few manufacturers with a vertical product line, which means its high-efficiency solar cells and other products make their way into off-brand panels. You could, therefore, end up with Canadian Solar technology even if you don’t specifically buy panels from the company.
REC is a solar manufacturer based in Norway with a massive presence throughout the U.S. By the company’s own statistics, it is the largest provider of photovoltaic (PV) modules to the United States, which is, in large part, why we think REC has some of the best solar panel availability in the country. Not only are its products widely available, but the company maintains above-average efficiency ratings across all of its products. We recommend REC panels to homeowners who want easily accessible options that will help maximize energy savings over time.
What We Like
REC’s performance specs and availability make it a go-to option for countless installers in the U.S., which means its products are available virtually anywhere you live. The company uses heterojunction (HJT) technology to keep panel efficiency high, which means REC panels save you more on energy bills than the average PV equipment.
REC’s warranty coverage is also quite good, with a 25-year power production warranty guaranteeing 92% of the original efficiency at the end of the warranty term for most panel models. That’s in line with other top performers in the industry.
REC panels also have a great temperature coefficient, losing just 0.26% efficiency per degree (C) above 25 degrees (77 degrees in Fahrenheit). That means REC panels are a great option for maintaining those high efficiency ratings and energy savings even in more extreme climates.
What We Don’t Like
The only real downside to REC panels is that they’re a bit on the expensive side. The high-end models cost around 3.20 per watt, before any solar tax credit is considered. The cheaper options with less impressive specs average as low as 2.50 per watt, though, so the company maintains options that will be suitable for most solar customers.
Solar Panel Options
REC has five primary product lines available that do a good job of providing something for everyone. This is yet another reason why we think REC is one of the most widely accessible brands in the industry.
|Efficiency Rating||Panel Type||Estimated Cost Per Watt||Power||Warranty||Best For|
|Alpha Pure-R||Up to 22.3%||Heterojunction (HJT)||3.20||410W to 430W||25 years||High Efficiency|
|Alpha Pure||Up to 21.6%||Heterojunction (HJT)||3.20||385W to 410W||25 years||Warranty Coverage|
|N-Peak 3||Up to 20.3%||Monocrystalline||2.80||390W to 400W||20 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Cost|
|N-Peak 2||Up to 20.3%||Monocrystalline||2.80||360W to 375W||20 to 25 years||Balancing Efficiency and Cost|
|TwinPeak 4||Up to 20.5%||Monocrystalline||2.50||360W to 375W||20 to 25 years||Affordability|
For the top-of-the-line products, including the Alpha Pure and Alpha Pure-R series, REC provides a 25-year warranty for the equipment, production and labor in case a panel needs to be serviced. All other products include a 20-year equipment warranty, which is just below the industry average, and a 25-year production warranty, which is right in line with the average term.
However, the company guarantees 92% efficiency will remain after the efficiency warranty term, which is better than most companies and in line with the best options in the solar space.
The best part about REC, in our opinion, is that it’s one of the top producers of panels in the U.S. Without being beholden to a single installer, just about any solar contractor can install REC panels, meaning the products should be available regardless of where you live.
REC does offer a superior warranty if you have your panels installed by a REC-certified installer, so keep that in mind if you know you do want REC panels.
What Should You Look for When Choosing High-Efficiency Solar Panels?
Aside from your installer making sure your solar system is sized properly for your home and energy consumption, choosing high-efficiency panels is the best way to maximize your solar savings and ensure you don’t end up paying for a solar array and a high monthly electric bill.
However, it’s not as simple as picking the panel with the highest efficiency rating. There are a few other things to consider that could change which option is actually best for your particular home. The infographic below includes a quick look at some of the most crucial things to think about that contribute to how well solar panels work in real-world conditions as opposed to standard testing conditions in a lab.
Compare the Top-Rated High-Efficiency Solar Panels
Overall, our top recommendations if you’re looking for high-efficiency panels are the Maxeon 6 panels from Maxeon and the Alpha Pure-R panels from REC. You might notice that our second pick actually has the fifth-highest efficiency, and that’s because we considered other crucial factors like degradation rate warranty coverage.
The table below includes some additional information about these two panel models to help you decide which of these is the right option for your solar project. We’ll also include info for our top panel recommendation from the other providers on our list for comparison.
|Efficiency Rating||Power Output||Temperature Coefficient (per degree C over 25)||Power Tolerance||First-year Degradation||Subsequent-year Degradation||Efficiency After 25 Years||Total Warranty Term (for Efficiency)|
|Maxeon 6||Up to 22.8%||410W to 440W||-0.29%||0/5%||2%||0.25%||92%||40 years|
|LONGi Hi-Mo 6 Scientist||Up to 22.6%||580W to 590W||-0.29%||0/5%||1.5%||0.5%||86.5%||25 years|
|Jinko Solar Tiger NEO||Up to 22.6%||475W to 635W||-0.29%||0/3%||1%||0.4%||89.4%||30 years|
|Canadian Solar HiHero||Up to 22.5%||420W to 445W||-0.26%||0/10%||1%||0.55%||85.8%||30 years|
|REC Alpha Pure-R||Up to 22.3%||410W to 430W||-0.26%||0/5%||2%||0.25%||92%||25 years|
Compare the Top-Rated High-Efficiency Solar Panel Manufacturers
As far as the best manufacturers overall for high-efficiency panels, we’d have to choose Maxeon again as our number one recommendation, although our second spot goes to LONGi. All of Maxeon’s panel models come with superior warranty coverage, reliability and durability, and LONGi is a great low-cost option that still brings plenty of value for the money.
The table below includes a side-by-side look at the product lines as a whole from these providers and the others that topped our list. We’ll include scoring for each based on our methodology, which will be explained in greater depth later in this article.
|Efficiency Score (Out of 25)||Durability Score (Out of 20)||Warranty Score (Out of 20)||Price Point Score (Out of 20)||Temperature Coefficient (Out of 10)||Sustainability Score (Out of 2.5)||Appearance Score (Out of 2.5)||Our Overall Rating (Out of 100)|
US Scientists Create New Solar Cell That Blows Past Theoretical Limit, But Why?
A new record-setting solar cell isn’t just another pretty PV face — it could open up new opportunities for concentrating solar power, too.
The National Renewable Laboratory just nailed down bragging rights to the world’s most efficient solar cell to date. The new PV device sails past the theoretical limit of 33% and gets pretty close to the 50% range, clocking in at an impressive 47.1%. The downside is that high-performance devices like these have an irritating tendency to price themselves out of the marketplace. They get stuck in outer space and other niche areas. Nevertheless, high performance could pay off in the sparkling green future, even though the cost of garden-variety solar is already low and falling.
Scientists John Geisz (left) and Ryan France fabricated a solar cell that is nearly 50% efficient’” by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.
A New Record For Solar Cell Efficiency
Before we get to the sparkling green economy of the future, let’s take a quick look at that new photovoltaic research from NREL.
For those of you new to the topic, the basic idea is that the right combination of materials can improve the ability of a solar cell to convert solar energy to electricity.
So far, silicon has proved to be the gold standard for solar cell efficiency. The 33% limit is based on single-junction solar cells, which use only silicon.
By switching up materials, adding more junctions, and performing some impressive feats of engineering in between, you can push past that limit.
Some triple-junction solar cells, for example, can surpass 45% under concentrated sunlight.
The new NREL solar cell is a six-junction affair of the III-V variety (“III-V” refers to the position of light absorbing elements on the periodic table).
You can get all the details from the research paper, published in the journal Nature Energy under the title, “Six-junction III-V solar cells with 47.1% conversion efficiency under 143 suns concentration,” but if you only have time for the plain-language version, the basic idea is that each of the six junctions capture different parts of the solar spectrum.
Through the magic of modern engineering and nanotechnology, the new solar cell consists of about 140 layers of the various materials, but it is narrower than a hair.
If that sounds rather pricey, it probably is. NREL has been working on bringing the cost of III-V solar cells down, but they are typically used in space and other niche applications where small is good and money is not an obstacle.
Expensive Solar Cell Meets Concentrating Solar Power
As for more ordinary applications in everyday life, that could be in the cards.
The research team points out that their new solar cell hit the record-setting mark of 47.1% under concentrated light. Under the equivalent of just one sun, it only racks up a conversion efficiency of 39.2%.
That rate of 39.2% may seem somewhat less impressive but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. In fact, 39.2% sets a new world record for one-sun conversion efficiency, which the NREL team bragging rights to a solar cell efficiency twofer for the same device.
to the point, the difference in conversion efficiency between one sun and concentrated light suggests that there may be an economical way to deploy six junction III-V cells in the mass market.
If you’re guessing our old friend concentrating solar power could be the linchpin, run right out and buy yourself a cigar.
“One way to reduce cost is to reduce the required area, and you can do that by using a mirror to capture the light and FOCUS the light down to a point,” explains NREL scientist Ryan France, who co-authored the new study.
Loosely speaking, the idea is to use a big field of relatively inexpensive mirrors to balance out the cost of a small field of ultra-efficient solar cells.
How small? According to France, you could end up using a fraction of semiconductor material compared to a conventional silicon solar cell, on the order of 1/100 or even 1/1,000.
Whatever Happened To Concentrating Solar Power?
If all goes according to plan, that would be sweet vindication for concentrating solar power fans.
The US Department of energy showcased CSP during the Obama administration, but back then the technology was relatively slow to prove itself in the marketplace.
In recent years, though, concentrating solar has really taken off. The current FOCUS is on thermal energy plus energy storage, but the potential for adding a photovoltaic angle could give the CSP industry yet another avenue of solar energy to pursue.
On the thermal side, the Energy Department has ramped up its interest in concentrating solar power in recent years with a particular FOCUS on the high-temperature solar area. Microsoft’s Bill Gates has also dipped a toe in the high-temperature CSP field, in his new guise as a high tech energy investor.
Photo: “Scientists John Geisz (left) and Ryan France fabricated a solar cell that is nearly 50% efficient‘” by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.
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What are the Most Efficient Solar Panels?
In 2022 alone, Americans installed enough residential solar panels to power 22 million homes. Many more are looking to join the renewable energy movement, and a basic understanding of how solar technology works and which solar panels are the most efficient is an important part of the decision-making process. Although installation experts are a great resource, doing your own research helps you more confidently decide which equipment will perform the best for your budget, home, and lifestyle.
One factor to consider when evaluating renewable energy as a power source is solar panel efficiency—a term you will likely encounter often in your research around installing solar panels on your home. This article will teach you how solar panel efficiency works and help you become familiar with the most efficient solar panels.
What is Solar Panel Efficiency?
First, let’s clarify what solar panel efficiency actually means.
Solar efficiency is the percentage of sunlight hitting the surface of a solar cell or panel which is converted into usable electricity through photovoltaic technology. The higher the efficiency, the better the solar cells or panels are at harnessing solar energy.
As solar panels are made up of individual solar cells (usually 60 to 96 per panel), you can sometimes find different efficiency measurements for the same technology. It’s important to understand the efficiency of a solar cell does not equate to the efficiency of the panel or system.
Solar panels generally have efficiency rates between 15-20%, whereas solar cells can reach up to 42% in some cases. However, unless otherwise stated, solar cells are generally tested under laboratory conditions, minimizing compromising factors (which we’ll discuss in a minute).
Why Does Solar Panel Efficiency Matter?
One of the biggest factors in the cost of your rooftop solar system is the number of panels needed to meet your energy needs. The efficiency of each panel is important because the more efficient each one is the more energy it will create, and each panel contributes to the energy the entire system generates. With higher-producing panels, you’ll need fewer panels installed on your roof.
This saves you the cost of additional panels, and it can also be important when you’re working with limited space—such as a small roof or one with hips and valleys which limit where you can place panels. When you choose higher efficiency solar panels you can make better use of every available square foot.
What Determines Solar Panel Efficiency?
Solar panel efficiency can be affected by a number of internal as well as external factors. Let’s take a look at each.
Internal Efficiency Factors
These are factors inherent to the panels themselves. They include the type and efficiency of the PV cells, how well these cells work together as a system within the panel and the greater solar array, and the materials used. PV cell efficiency is affected by the design of the solar cell and silicon type. If you are unfamiliar, silicon is a photosensitive semiconductor used in photovoltaic cells.
Other internal factors include the efficiency of the inverter installed with the solar system and thermal cycling. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) power generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which is what is used to power your home. Some energy loss occurs in this transition; however, with the right wiring this loss is typically minimal. Thermal cycling tests the system’s ability to withstand a wide temperature range. When temperatures change, the different components of the system can expand or contract, affecting its efficiency.
The way the solar panels are positioned also matters. South facing-roofs are ideal as they receive the most sunlight, and panels should also be angled at 45 degrees for optimal production.
External Efficiency Factors
Solar panels operate on sunshine, so they’re typically outside and exposed to the elements, introducing a number of external factors affecting efficiency.
- Weather – Different weather phenomena affect panels in different ways. For example, snow can accumulate on panels and reduce their ability to absorb sunlight, extended Cloud cover can do the same, and hail can damage solar panels. However, wind can cool panels down, improving their efficiency.
- Temperature – Solar panels prefer moderate temperatures with average peak efficiencies between 59 and 95 degrees. If the surface of the panels heat up to higher than 149 degrees, efficiency will likely decline.
- Dust and Grime Buildup – Being outside exposes each panel to dirt and grime. When this builds up on the surface of the panels it can decrease the ability of solar cells to absorb sunlight, thus decreasing efficiency.
All of these factors together determine how capable your solar panels are at converting sunlight into electricity, which can be used to power household appliances, lights, and other electronic devices.
How Efficient are Today’s Solar Panels?
As recently as the early 2000s, solar panels were 15% efficient on average, if not less. However, innovations in photovoltaic technology over the past two decades have significantly improved solar panel performance. Solar panel efficiency now falls between 15 and 22%, while high-efficiency solar panels can reach up to 23%.
Solar panels are not 100% efficient because they cannot absorb energy from the entire solar spectrum. The technology is not there yet either, though progress is being made toward reaching the 50% efficiency milestone. In a lab, a record-breaking solar panel achieved a 47% efficiency rate, and panels have also achieved 40% rates in real-world conditions. Efficiency rates will rise as time goes on, but choosing a high-efficiency panel is a good choice no matter the current rates.
High-efficiency solar panels generate more watts per square foot. which means less surface area may be required to collect enough sunlight. As homeowners have less room for solar panels on their roof—as compared to commercial property owners—high-efficiency solar panels are an attractive option for residential installations.
It’s important to keep in mind higher efficiency is not always an indicator of better solar panel quality. Build quality greatly impacts the reliability and performance of your solar panels. Problems caused by poor manufacturing detract from the benefits of higher efficiency. When evaluating adding a custom solar panel system, consider more than efficiency.
It’s also important to choose solar panels manufactured and sold by proven, reliable companies who can uphold the 10 to 25-year warranty offered with most solar systems. In the industry, these companies hold the “tier-1” designation, indicating they’ve been in business for at least five years, have secure financial standing, and use mechanical manufacturing techniques and strong vertical integration. Their automated manufacturing techniques decrease the likelihood of defects in the panels, and the companies’ reputations reassure if issues do arise, they will make it right.