Solar panels are popping up on residential and commercial properties all over the world. It’s natural for people to recognize the development and wonder if renewable energy is right for them. Their first thoughts generally address the reliability of a solar system. In other words, how efficient are solar panels? Will it provide all the electricity our household needs? What factors affect the efficiency of solar system? Are they worth it? Find out here.
How Efficient are Solar Panels Compared to Fossil Fuels?
Before the industrial revolution, humans used the sun for many of our energy needs. Just a couple of decades later, fossil fuels made it possible for half of American homes to have electricity. This reduced the use of solar power significantly.
Today, virtually every home in the country enjoys electricity at the simple flip of a switch, thanks to fossil fuels. However, experts have found that our supply of fossil fuels is running dangerously low.
Fossil fuels develop over hundreds of millions of years. Once we use them all, they’re basically gone forever. Humans never questioned the efficiency of solar power before the discovery of fossil fuels. That’s probably because there was no other way to make electricity easily available. Or so we thought.
Converting fossil fuels to electricity is somewhat more efficient than converting solar power to electricity today. However, fossil fuels are not renewable sources of energy, like the sun.
Solar power is limitless. It offers all the energy we need to power the entire world for lifetimes to come. It will always be enough to supply the power needs of humanity. Now, we know how to harness it cleaner and better than fossil fuels. So, just how efficient are solar panels compared to fossil fuels?
Solar Panels Compared to Fossil Fuels: The Numbers
Solar panels are certainly less efficient when considering energy conversion alone. But only slightly so. For example, solar panels convert about 15-22 percent of the sun into electricity. In comparison, factories and factory workers convert 20-40 percent of fossil fuels into energy, according to Consumer Affairs.
“But overall,” says Consumer Affairs, “the health, environmental and economic costs of fossil fuels outweigh their value.” While solar panels convert less energy, they offer safer, better-paying jobs and a significantly healthier environment. The household’s cost for energy is generally lower, as well. Moreover, solar panels emit virtually no pollution during manufacturing and conversion.
In comparison, fossil fuels are literally destroying the Earth and its climate. U.S. News points out that “more than 100,000 Americans each year die of . . . illnesses caused by air pollution.” Many people find that comparing solar power efficiency to fossil fuel efficiency as immaterial. Soon, it will be all we have, and it’s more than enough.
On the other hand, knowledge is power. So, let’s talk about factors that determine efficiency among solar panels.
Important Factors for Manufacturers to Consider
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) explains that a variety of components affect solar panel efficiency. Solar companies design solar panels and solar systems with these factors in mind. The DOE lists four of these design components.
A wavelength is made of multiple points in an electromagnetic wave. “The sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface has wavelengths from ultraviolet, through the visible range, to infrared,” says the DOE.
When sunlight hits a solar panel, it absorbs some light particles from these wavelengths and reflects the rest. Some of the absorbed light particles turn into heat. The rest of them separate electrons. Eventually, the electrons produce the electric current.
Electrons aren’t the only carriers of the electric current, however. A “hole” is another type of carrier. These two inevitably encounter each other. “When an electron encounters a hole,” says the DOE, “they may recombine and therefore cancel out their contributions to the electrical current.” This is counterproductive because it reverses the conversion process.
Although sunlight is necessary for solar energy production, heat isn’t. Ironically, the heat from the sun can damage solar panels. How efficient are solar panels if they can be damaged by heat?
Firstly, let us point out that it takes “extreme increases in temperature” to damage solar panels. The damage occurs in the sensitive technological equipment within the panels. For this reason, manufacturers must incorporate proper thermal management in their design.
As we mentioned above, solar panels reflect many light particles from the sun’s wavelengths. That’s lost energy. Reflection effects solar panel efficiency. The DOE points out, “Anti-reflection coatings and textured surfaces help decrease reflection.”
The solar panels available today are made with cutting-edge components and technology. They benefit from decades of research and development. Most importantly, they have the capability to power your household’s home for all your electricity needs.
Solar energy is free. So, as a result, solar customers have a significantly lower electric bill. With the additional benefits of state and federal tax incentives, most consumers express satisfaction with their decision to go solar. In fact, many become residential solar advocates amongst their friends and family.