How to Maximize Solar Energy
Energy efficiency is a matter of optimization. No matter what energy-efficient improvements you invest in, it is crucial to make sure the updates are a good match for your home, your lifestyle, and your energy use. Over time, adjustments may be required for better performance and to get your money’s worth.
So it is with residential solar energy systems. Both newcomers to solar and homeowners who are already enthusiastic about their energy systems want to know how to get the most from the technology.
Keep reading for information on how to maximize solar power for your home. Or you can contact REenergizeCO to get started on an optimal solution for increasing the output of your solar panels.
How Do I Optimize My Solar Panel Output?
One of the major benefits of solar power for your home is that the technology does not require a lot of hands-on hardware management. Solar panels and other components of the system can effectively generate electricity for years or even decades without adjustments.
Homeowners who invest in solar enjoy a great return on investment. With the savings on electric bills, the system can pay for itself in as little as 7 years.
Optimizing the performance of solar panels often begins with the decision to hire a professional solar company. Knowledgeable installers can angle solar panels just right to catch the maximum amount of sun and minimize shade, improving the output of electricity.
After installation, you can take additional steps to improve efficiency and optimize the output of your solar energy system – thus enhancing the money you save on energy. These 5 tips can help you get the maximum benefit from your solar panels:
Install a Solar Battery
While it is true that solar panels can only produce energy when the sun is shining, you are not limited to powering your home during the daytime. Solar battery storage enables you to have a reserve power source at night and when sunlight is scarce.
For many years, homeowners with solar had to switch over to the local power grid after sunset. However, solar-plus-storage allows you to maximize the electricity generated by your solar panels day or night.
Modify Your Habits
While battery storage can free you from reliance on the grid, solar panels still do their best work when it’s sunny outside. Energy-intensive activities such as doing the laundry are best performed in the mornings and afternoons when your solar panels are soaking up the rays.
Using solar energy during the day prevents you from paying peak-hour on electricity from the grid. In fact, you should check with your local utility for incentives that reward homeowners who rely on solar during peak hours. Net metering programs can further improve your solar savings by allowing you to “sell” the extra energy you generate back to your utility.
Use Different Appliances at Different Times of the Day
When you run multiple appliances at the same time, you increase the likelihood that your home will have to dip into the electric grid to keep things running.
For example, if you run your dishwasher and your dryer at 1:00 p.m., you might end up using both solar energy and electricity to get the job done. By comparison, if you run the dishwasher at 9:00 a.m. and then save the dryer for the afternoon, you make steadier and more efficient use of the available solar energy throughout the day.
Try to run no more than one major appliance at a time. Many of today’s appliances even have programming features that will allow you to set a specific hour of operation in advance. This can help you consistently get the most out of your solar panels week after week, month after month, and year after year.
Insulate Your Home to Prevent Air Leaks
Cooling and heating make up the single biggest energy expense in your home. That is why utility bills always seem to skyrocket in summer and winter.
Installing solar panels and adopting eco-friendly habits will save you money and reduce your dependence on the grid. However, if your home is inefficient, your solar energy system will have to work harder.
Upgrading your ductwork insulation can help your HVAC do its job more efficiently. New insulation can also stop air leaks in other areas of the home, including:
- The attic
- Exterior walls
- The basement
- Crawl spaces
- Lighting fixtures and electrical outlets
- Plumbing fixtures
- Windows (old Windows may need weatherized or replaced with more efficient designs)
The less energy your HVAC needs, the more solar energy you can divert to other household uses.
Download a Monitoring System
A number of apps are available to track your overall home energy usage, solar power performance, local weather forecasts, and your monthly energy bills. These apps are a simple and sophisticated way to maximize the value of the electricity generated by your solar energy system.
Your local utility provider may offer basic monitoring services for free, while more advanced monitoring may be available through your solar installer and/or third-party app services. Knowing when, where, and how you’re using energy can empower you to optimize your overall energy savings.
Learn How to Get the Most from Your Solar Panels
Before installing solar panels or making other upgrades, it is important to know where you are losing money and energy efficiency. At REenergizeCO, our team of experts starts each project with a comprehensive home energy audit.
The energy audit enables us to assess the efficiency of your home and identify potential improvements. In just a few hours, we’ll determine where and how your home is wasting energy. Then we’ll identify the most cost-effective ways to turn things around.
Many homeowners enjoy maximum benefits from combining solar installation with other energy-efficient upgrades. Our experienced team members will discuss all options with you, customizing the project to your needs and goals.
For more information about optimizing your home’s energy use with solar, please contact REenergizeCO today. You can reach our office in Denver at (303) 227-1000 or call our office in Fort Collins at (970) 323-3191. We proudly serve homeowners throughout the Colorado Front Range.
What Determines Solar Panel Efficiency?
Your solar panel’s ability to produce energy by converting the sunlight it receives to usable electricity depends upon five crucial factors: materials, wiring, reflection, age, and temperature.
Impact of Materials on Solar Panel Efficiency
Solar panel manufacturers use different substances to create different types of solar panels, including:
- Polycrystalline silicon
- Monocrystalline silicon
- Cadmium telluride
- Multi-junction solar cells
Each solar panel material helps determine how much sunlight will be converted to electricity. Most manufacturers today use monocrystalline silicon solar cell technology for their panels because of their superior efficiency. Monocrystalline photovoltaic (PV) cells are more efficient than other panel types because they are made from a single crystal of silicon, which means electrons can move more easily through the cell.
In addition to existing solar panel materials like silicon, solar companies are exploring other materials that could deliver even more efficient panel technology, including both organic and more recyclable options. (We have a deeper discussion of these developments below.)
Impact of Wiring on Solar Panel Efficiency
Solar panels can be wired in series and in parallel, and the different wiring configurations have an impact on how your solar panel system will function and how much power it can produce. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option, so it’s one of the decisions a solar panel company will make when designing the ideal solar power system for your home.
Wiring also helps determine the right inverter for your solar arrays, whether it’s a string inverter, power optimizer, microinverter, hybrid inverter, or something else entirely. The type of inverter that is used–especially in terms of how power is collected from the panels and sent to your house, battery storage, and electricity grid–can impact your solar panel system’s overall efficiency.
Within the panels themselves, wiring and “busbars” (the metal connecting solar cells in the solar panel that actually captures and transfers electricity) have an effect on efficiency, with more efficient panels using different configurations and different technologies to improve this process.
Impact of Reflection on Solar Panel Efficiency
The amount of light reflected away from a solar cell’s surface impacts solar panel efficiency. Solar panel efficiency depends on the amount of light they can absorb and convert into electricity.
If light reflects off the surface of the panel, it can’t become electricity, which lowers the efficiency of that panel. Solar power panels with textured surfaces and anti-reflection coatings can help minimize the amount of light that gets reflected away.
Impact of Age on Solar Panel Efficiency
The average lifespan of solar panels is about 25 to 30 years. Throughout this period, your solar system should generate all the electricity you need to power your home, unless the panels get blocked by too much shade, dirt, or other debris.
However, during that 25- to 30-year timeframe, your panel efficiency will slowly decrease over time, until they eventually reach a point where the solar panels don’t create enough electricity for all of your home’s needs. This degradation rate is factored into the initial design of a solar power system, but it still impacts your solar panel’s efficiency.
Impact of Temperature on Solar Panel Efficiency
The climate of your area impacts solar panel efficiency, as the energy levels of electrons are determined by their level of excitement. Contrary to what you might think, solar panels are more efficient at lower temperatures. Because the electrons on the thin layer of silicon are calmer and less excited, they can move with greater ease and increased numbers through the transmission lines to generate solar power.
When it is hot, the electrons are more excited and moving in different directions. This makes it more challenging for them to move effectively through the transmission lines, leading to lower solar energy production levels during a hot day.
In other words, you will experience higher voltage and enhanced generation efficiency during a cold sunny day compared to a hot sunny day.
How To Calculate Solar Panel Efficiency
The easiest way to calculate the efficiency of your solar panels is with this formula:
Efficiency (%) = (Pmax ÷ Area) ÷ (1000) x 100%
- Pmax = max solar panel power (in Watts)
- Area = length x width of the solar panel (in m2)
- 1000 = Standard Test Condition (STC) irradiance
Let’s break it down a bit for deeper comprehension.
Find your panel’s max power capacity
You can find this information labeled as Pmax or maximum power on the spec sheet for your solar panels.
Get your panel’s physical dimensions
The standard panel dimensions are 65 inches by 39 inches, but you can also find and verify this information for your own panels–specifically, length and width–on the specification sheet.
Calculate the power unit area of your panel
To get the power unit area of your module, divide its Pmax into its area.
Factor in the STC
Standard Test Condition (STC) represents the ideal environment used by solar manufacturers when testing average solar panel output. These conditions include a cell temperature of 25 °C and air mass of 1.5, and solar irradiance of 1000 W/m2. That value of 1000 W/m2 is what’s used in the efficiency equation.
Calculate solar panel efficiency
Using some sample numbers, we can walk through the math. Assuming your solar panels are 2 m2 in area, produce 400 watts, and receive 1,000 W/m2 of sunlight, the efficiency of your solar panels is 20%.
Efficiency (%) = (400 ÷ 2) ÷ (1000) x 100%
Solar Panel Efficiency in 2023
The average solar panel efficiency in 2023 ranges from 15% to 20%. At the high end, the most efficient solar panels available for public use achieve 22% efficiency.
While the majority of solar panels available in the United States today are below 20% efficiency, we can anticipate that the efficiency of solar energy systems will continue to improve as the solar industry pursues advanced photovoltaic technology.
History of Solar Panel Efficiency
The first major breakthrough in solar power was made by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839. He discovered the photovoltaic effect, the root of the modern solar cell. Since then, solar innovation and improvement have remained a FOCUS for the scientific community and the solar industry as they look to improve solar panel efficiency and increase energy output over time.
Below is a brief synopsis of major advances in solar energy efficiency over the last three decades, courtesy of new solar panel technology.
- 1992: The University of South Florida manufactures a 15.89% efficient thin-film cell
- 2012: Solar Frontier achieves 17.8% efficiency
- 2015: First Solar CdTe thin film technology reaches 18.6% efficiency
- 2015: SolarCity hits 22.04% efficiency
- 2015: Panasonic’s 72-cell prototype achieves 22.5% efficiency
- 2015: SunPower attains 22.8% efficiency with its X22 panel
- 2016: The Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory achieve 29.8% efficiency
- 2016: The University of South Wales researchers attain 34.5% efficiency
- 2017: George Washington University and Naval Research attain a 44.5% solar cell efficiency
- 2018: Research into perovskite reveals a theoretical upper limit of 66% efficiency
To be clear, a majority of these high efficiency ratings of the most efficient solar panels are achieved in a laboratory setting, and aren’t yet possible at a commercial scale due to high production costs.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been tracking the increase in research-cell efficiencies for a variety of solar panel technologies, and it shows the continued stair-step of improvements over time:
Solar panel efficiency over time has come a long way, thanks to the relentless efforts of solar panel manufacturers and scientists. These continual improvements in solar panel efficiency are great for the environment because they reduce our reliance on electricity created from fossil fuels and send even more energy to the grid. The clean energy they produce helps reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and also helps us combat greenhouse gas emissions.
Solar PV panels are very sensitive to solar shadings. Total or partial shading conditions have a significant impact rate on the capability of delivering energy and may result in lower output and power losses. Cells in a solar panel are usually connected in series to get a higher voltage and therefore an appropriate production of electricity.
But when shading occurs, this structure presents some limitations. In fact, when a single solar cell is shaded, the current of all the units in the string is determined by the unit that produces the least current. When a cell is shaded, the whole series is virtually shaded too. To prevent the loss of energy, the installation usually includes bypass diodes.
Bypass diodes are wired in parallel to the solar cells. When a solar cell is shaded, the bypass diode provides a current path that allows the string of connected solar cells to generate energy at a reduced voltage. Read more.
The Orientation, Inclination, Latitude of the place and Climatic conditions
The installation of the photovoltaic modules must take into account some factors to take full advantage of solar radiation: the orientation, the inclination, the latitude of the place, the climatic conditions. The correct consideration of these variants will help ensure that they produce maximum energy by being exposed to the greatest intensity of solar radiation for the longest period of time. Learn more.
OM services help with the management of the implementation of certain processes to avoid or mitigate potential hazards and to guarantee the optimal return on investment. Operations mainly consist of the remote monitoring and control of the PV power plant conditions and performance. Monitoring software provides access to all data collected, which can be used for different purposes: defect detection, performance analysis, improvement, predictive maintenance, and security. A good monitoring system will provide information on the production, alarms, and analytical data, in a timely, efficient, and precise manner to detect any anomaly of the PV plant. Continue reading.
Solar panels are very durable, main warranties last for 15-25 years. However, cleaning solar panels is important to maximize the amount of light available to turn into electrical power. Making frequent physical inspections can help solar panels absorbing light effectively.
archelios™ Suite is a comprehensive software solution that offers a unique approach. Thanks to its advanced computational technology, archelios™ Suite adds value to the life-cycle of any PV project: feasibility and profitability study, simulation, calculation of producible energy, complete electrical sizing, operation, and monitoring.
The software is an efficient tool for any type of PV project.
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New solar technologies to improve efficiency
Despite low efficiency rates among current solar panels, there are several innovative proposals and technologies that aim to change how efficient can solar panels get in the close future.
#1 Reducing the shading effects of wires
Among available proposals is the reduction of the shading effect on solar cells caused by bus bars.
Bus bars are located vertically and horizontally across a solar panel. They can be easily identified by any person as silver wires forming a grid inside a solar panel. They transport electricity generated by solar cells.
These wires, even as tiny as they are, reflect the incoming light in sections where they pass by. In the end, this translates into less irradiance received by solar panels, and therefore, generation of less power.
The idea is to reduce the thickness of these wires, or in the best case to eliminate their interference with the sunlight by placing them on the back of a panel. This would achieve a uniform smooth colored panel .
#2 Innovative gallium arsenide triple-junction structure
Another interesting feature that has been set in motion is the development of the new generation of powerful solar cells from gallium arsenide.
Gallium arsenide cells have a triple-junction structure (different from silicon p-n junction) that can be chemically modified to acquire more light radiation than ordinary cells.
Among remarkable advantages of these cells is:
- Excellent ultraviolet, radiation and moisture resistance;
- Great performance in the presence of low light;
- Flexibility and low weight;
- Efficiency values over 28.8 percent (!).
#3 Cadmium telluride thin film cells
As new compounds are used for the creation of solar cells, new methodologies are also evolving around the manufacturing process to provide high efficiency solar cells.
The solar energy market is ruled by silicon semiconductors, included even in the design of thin film solar panels, but in the short to medium term, new photovoltaic materials like cadmium telluride are starting to gain their the market, as promising materials for the development of thin film panels.
The obstacle for their large-scale market introduction arises during the manufacturing process.
Some components seem to be very unstable because cadmium chloride has to be used during the manufacture. However, a new manufacture approach could deliver positive results, if cadmium chloride gets replaced with magnesium chloride .
Unlike cadmium chloride, magnesium chloride is abundant and low cost resource that can be obtained from the seawater. This material can also boost efficiency of the thin film panels up to 15 percent.
#4 Perovskite, the wonder material
The ultimate and most promising technology for improvement of efficiency is the perovskite component.
Perovskite, a compound of calcium, titanium and oxygen, offers the possibility to achieve efficiency levels above the current maximum of 22 percent at lower manufacturing costs.
The secret lies in the low costs of raw materials and fabrication methods (printing techniques) that do not require high temperatures and such a high precision as the silicon cells do.
How to easily improve efficiency of solar cells
When you would like to improve efficiency of your solar cells, you should consider the effect of factors discussed above. As you can see, there are some factors that cannot be influenced by you, such as weather and outdoor temperature, but some other factors can be controlled or selected to obtain the best possible efficiency.
The key to success is trying to tackle the factors that can be controlled.
For example: regular solar panel maintenance helps eliminate snow, dust, dirt and ice – all of which obstruct sunlight from effectively reaching the panel’s surface, and therefore reduce efficiency of solar cells.
By keeping your panels clean, you can nicely maintain their efficiency.
Other factors such as the type of a solar panel, its orientation, and the minimum shade configuration are crucial parameters that will determine overall efficiency in the long run.
Some important details that need to be considered are:
- the solar irradiation value in your area;
- average Cloud density;
- levels of air pollution;
- the angle of solar panels depending on their location and a selected mounting system.
These parameters are generally selected by a solar designer but that does not mean that you cannot intervene in the process, especially in the selection of the solar panel type.
Questions you may have about solar panel efficiency
We have discussed the limits of the conversion of sunlight into electricity for silicon p-n junction cells; the overall effect of several factors on the efficiency of solar panels; the new promising technologies or proposals to elevate such efficiency values and the options that you can implement to improve the efficiency conversion of your photovoltaic system.
Nevertheless, we haven’t discussed what exactly the use of solar panels with higher or lower efficiency values means for you. Efficiency is associated with the ability of solar cells to produce the maximum amount of electricity from a light energy source.
A single cell with low efficiency will produce less power than another cell of the same size but with higher efficiency.
Does it mean that if my solar panels have low efficiency they will produce less power?
If you select a solar panel with a power output of 200 watts and an efficiency of 14 percent, and then choose another solar panel with the same power output but with an efficiency of 20 percent, both panels will produce the same 200 watts output!
Where is the difference then?!
The difference lies in the size of the panel–lower efficiency panels require more space to produce the same power output. This means that a 14 percent efficient solar panel will be bigger in size.
So, the question that arises is…
Does solar panel efficiency matter?
The answer is: it depends. In some applications like solar cars, satellites, lighting and electronic devices size will matter, as the space availability is limited, and each inch of the panel needs to produce the maximum possible power to supply the required load.
Utility-scale projects must also take into the account optimal selection of the size and efficiency, as bigger panels require higher installation costs due to the longer wiring and stronger mounting structures (along with higher land rental costs) .
However, in residential solar systems, the availability of space on a roof or in a courtyard is sufficient to supply the desired load. Even though, this also depends on your expectations–meaning that if the demanded energy load exceeds the available space for the installation, high efficiency solar panels should be considered.
It is important to highlight that you should settle the balance between costs, efficiency, power load and space with your solar installer at the beginning because this decision will affect the overall performance of your solar system and the total cost of your project.