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A solar panel converts energy from the sun into usable electricity. Veteran Sunpower dealers will tell you solar panels are not created equal. Some products are more efficient than others. A technical definition of efficiency pertains to the ratio between the panel’s power generation and the power received from sunlight.
Simply put, a system with 20 percent efficiency should be able to convert 20 percent of the sunlight hitting the surface.
Innate limitations of solar panel efficiency
VeteranSunpower dealers will tell you solar panels are not created equal. Some products are more efficient than others. If a panel is 50 percent efficient, then it converts half of the sunlight it receives to power.
Unfortunately, a 100 percent efficient solar panel does not exist. Specific laws of physics forbid this. Aside from the second law of thermodynamics, there a theorem developed by Nicolas Carnot, a French scientist and engineer, which marks maximum efficiency at approximately 85 percent for non-tracking systems.
The efficiency maximum for systems that track the sun in the sky is lower at 55 percent.
Not all of the sunlight can be converted to electrical power because some of it is heat. Still, advocates of renewable energy espouse the benefits of solar power. It is clean and unquenchable. The initial investment could pay off handsomely in the future.
Today, you can work with solar installers and find the best system for your household needs. If you want an efficient system, you have to spend more. Still, the best photovoltaic products available offer only about 35 percent efficiency.
The maximum theoretical efficiency figure for a basic system is 55 percent, so that’s quite acceptable.
Environmental factors affecting efficiency
You have to be aware of the fact the efficiency can be reduced further by environmental factors such as panel orientation, shade, and ambient temperature. Orientation is one of the primary considerations for solar system installation.
An experienced and skilled contractor should know how to orient the panels at your location. Tracking technology is available, which enable your system to follow the sun along its journey throughout the day. There are effective solutions to shading issues, which should be prioritized during installation as well.
Meanwhile, temperature matters only in very hot regions of the United States. This problem should be solvable with solutions that induce cooling and promote airflow.
On panel maintenance
Efficiency issues abound, but various solutions are available to homeowners who choose to install a photovoltaic array for domestic use. Maintenance becomes important if efficiency is to be maximized. While solar panels are well-known for being low maintenance systems, it helps to keep the dirt and grit at bay.
A filthy panel surface is less efficient than one that is squeaky clean. Dust comes off easily with a clean rug and soapy water. Just make sure you use a sturdy ladder and take careful steps going up the roof.
Solar energy is clean and 100 percent renewable. For as long as the sun shines overhead, you can rely on a steady source of power. While efficiency remains a concern for existing systems, there are available solutions to existing problems.
As more move forward to a new decade, we can only hope that better solutions will be available soon.