Which the Most Efficient Solar Panels?

most efficient solar panels

One of the most commonly asked questions when people consider installing residential solar is which are the most efficient solar panels?

It’s a question that makes sense to ask — you’re putting down a lot of money up front to install these panels, so you want to get your money’s worth. However, it’s the wrong question to ask. That’s because you shouldn’t base your solar panel purchase on efficiency, but on value.

Most Efficient Solar Panels

Solar cells are linked together in a panel, converting sunlight into electricity through photovoltaic materials like silicon. When sunlight hits the panels, that light’s energy is absorbed, and the electrons in the material are captured to produce electric currents that you use to power your home.

The most efficient solar cells are developed for places like NASA. For example, Soitec & Fraunhofer Institute produces solar cells that are 46 percent efficient. Compare that to SunPower, which hold the commercial solar module efficiency record at 21.5 percent.

It’s a big difference in efficiency, but for a reason! You can’t even buy Soitec & Fraunhofer’s cells, because they’re not available for residential use. They’re insanely expensive and have applications beyond just your rooftop. Yes, they hold the overall solar photovoltaic module efficiency record, but you can’t use them. It’s not about the efficiency rate, but about the value of the panels.

Get the Best Value

The thing is, it’s not about which solar panels are the most efficient, but which are the best value for your money. The rates of efficiency between solar panels you can actually install on your roof don’t range by huge percentage points, so it really comes down to your budget and what you feel comfortable spending.

If your roof has room for 10 solar panels, and your options are panels that are slightly more efficient but twice the price of cheaper solar panels, you will save a lot more by going with the cheaper panels. Of course, you may be concerned the cheaper panels will be less effective. That’s why it’s best to contact a solar installer and have them help you with the research.

The bottom line is that solar panel efficiency is not what you should base your panel purchasing decision on. Rather, you should focus on the overall cost of the panels, and compare energy efficiency rates between the panels you can buy.

Looking for Efficient Solar Panels

Start by looking up solar installers in your area and getting a quote. Ask them which solar panels they would install on the roof of their home, then price search all the possible panels. SunPower, First Solar, Q-Cells, Sanyo Grape Solar, and Canadian Solar are all respectable solar power companies that make efficient solar panels ranging between 16 and 21 percent efficiency. These are also solar panels that won’t break the bank. You won’t be able to buy solar panels designed for NASA satellites, so don’t bother trying (and you won’t want those, either!).

Keep in mind that solar continue to grow exponentially, and the technology is improving rapidly. If you’re planning out solar power installation over the course of a year or more, check in on companies to see if they’ve outdone themselves in terms of a solar panel that’s more efficient than the last.

Ultimately, the solar panels you buy are going to provide dividends for years to come, because they’ll produce renewable energy that allows you to save huge on your utility bills.

A lot of people ask: should I wait for better solar technology to come out before going solar?

The short answer: No!

The idea that current technology isn’t efficient enough may stem from the news bombarding us with stories about some new solar cell that exceed 40% efficiency. Unfortunately this kind of news can lull people into thinking we’re due for a new breakthrough, and that it’s better to wait rather than go solar today.

Most people don’t understand that the current efficiency of solar panels is remarkable, and that we’ve exceeded biological systems by a factor of 3 already.

The best treatise on the topic is a UCSD blog post titled “Don’t be a PV efficiency Snob” that opens with the following:

So 15% is far too low for you? Perhaps you reason that laboratory prototypes and expensive spacecraft applications can get 40%-plus results, so let’s not take the plunge prematurely, given the abysmal 15%.

Perhaps you drive a car. Maybe you’ll stop when you realize that it converts thermal energy from burning gasoline into locomotive power at an efficiency around 15–25% (and this on a finite resource). We should wait for better.

Electric cars deliver battery-stored energy to the wheels at something like 85% efficiency. Now we’re talking. But the charging process imposes another 85% efficiency, and the real kicker is that the fossil fuel (or nuclear) plant supplying the electrical power is only 35% efficient for a net fossil-to-wheels efficiency around 25% (same ballpark as the gasoline car).

If you’re low on energy, you might consider eating. But on second thought, our metabolic efficiency of converting chemical energy into mechanical output is similar to that of a car, so why bother? Turn up your nose.

Read More: Don’t be a PV efficiency Snob

The bottom line: today’s most efficient solar panels are efficient enough to save you money!

Image Credit: Albert Bridge via geograph under a Creative Commons license

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