Solar panels are the primary way we collect solar energy. Also called photovoltaic panels, solar panels come in a variety of sizes, designs, and qualities. Maximizing solar panel efficiency is the key to getting the most free energy possible from the sun.
Solar Panel Efficiency
How efficient are solar panels? Only about 15-20% of the energy that hits them is converted into electricity.
This number has been going up in recent years, and there are a variety of reasons it isn’t higher, but the important bit to remember is that the energy collected is free, clean power delivered directly from the sun.
Make Solar Panels More Efficient
1. Pick the Best Place for Solar Panels
The orientation of your solar panels should be more toward the true south if you live in the northern hemisphere. Similarly, they should be facing the north if you are in the southern hemisphere.
The panels should be tilted in such a way that they receive sunshine directly without any obstruction for at least six hours per day.
In some locations, it may be beneficial to adjust your solar panels a few times each year to remain in optimal contact with the sun, as its position in the sky changes.
2. Install a Battery
In addition to the panels and inverters, invest in a battery storage system for optimal efficiency. If you’re plugged directly into a device, whether that’s a generator, an RV, or a house, if the device can’t use the energy that’s produced, the system will put a hold on energy production.
Alternatively, you can have a system that allows you to use what you need and if you produce excess energy it can run back onto the power grid for others to use. That’s great for them, and it’s great the power isn’t going to waste. You’ll likely get a kickback from the power company too.
However, in the optimally-efficient solar setup, you’ll be able to access solar-sourced power even when the sun goes down. In order to store solar power, you’ll need battery storage.
With a storage system, the needs of your home will be met by the stored power until the solar panels can continue production when the sun shines again.
3. Avoid Shaded Areas
Obviously, you won’t want a tall tree to overshadow your solar panels, but there are likely other shade-causing objects you may not have considered.
The building next door? An antenna or AC unit on the roof? A chimney? When placing your solar panels, it’s essential there are no shade throwers in the vicinity.
It’s important to note that many PV cells work in a continuum, moving along the units in order. That means a bit of shade on one area of the panel creates an obstacle for the whole system.
At the very least, shade will decrease the maximum absorption, therefore decreasing efficiency.
4. Keep Your Panels Clean
It’s not surprising that dirt and debris will reduce solar energy efficiency in your system. You know your roof best, so you can likely calculate the degree to which you’ll need to debride your panels.
If you have a steeply angled roof and a decent amount of rain, you may have nature doing the cleaning for you. In contrast, if you have a mostly flat roof with a large-leaf maple nearby, your assistance will regularly be required.
A solar panel covered in mud, moss, leaves, or other debris will significantly reduce the efficiency of your unit. Be particularly vigilant in the fall when leaves are falling onto the roof.
During winter, if you have snowfall followed by cold sunny days, you may need to remove the snow from your panels if it's not melting on its own.
5. Provide Adequate Air Circulation
PV panels can take a lot of heat. However, the efficiency of your photovoltaic panel is affected by extreme temperature levels. Efficiency drops as the temperature gets higher.
Proper installation will ensure there is a sufficient gap between the solar panels and the roof in order for air to circulate.
If you live in an area that's excessively hot much of the time, it’s another reason to carefully match the best type of solar panel to your situation.
One bonus tip—Replace your roof first. Solar panels last a very long time. Modern, durable solar panels can last decades with proper care. That’s a lot of energy savings for you.
However, your efficiency and cost savings will tank if you need to remove the solar panels for any reason during their working lifespan. With this in mind, always investigate the usable life of your roof before installing solar panels.
If your roof’s days are numbered, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by installing a solar system, only to have to remove it later.
6. Use a Solar Concentrator
Solar light can be concentrated with the help of a solar concentrator. The purpose of these concentrators is to concentrate the light falling on a large area to smaller areas.
To envision the inner workings of a concentrator, imagine using a magnifying glass to start a fire.
In that case, the glass redirects the sun’s rays into a concentrated stream of energy that heats and lights materials such as paper, straw, or wood shavings.
The same method holds true in a solar concentrator. The lenses inside the device effectively funnel the sunlight into a specific spot, increasing the efficiency of the solar panels.
In addition to, or in place of, a solar concentrator, there’s a chance of increasing solar panel efficiency with mirrors. They work in the same way as lenses and some people attest to their ability to increase the efficiency of solar panels.
Homeowners can mount mirrors around solar panels in the precise location that maximizes sun reflection.
Although not scientifically proven for increasing efficiency in solar panels, this idea has been around for a long time. Have you ever made a solar oven?
7. Pick the Best Solar Panels for Your Climate
Not all solar panels are created equal, which means their makeup is one of the factors affecting solar panel efficiency. There are two primary types of solar panels and the difference comes from the quality of the crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells.
The first is called monocrystalline. They are typically more expensive, yet also more efficient. The second is called polycrystalline. These solar panels are less expensive and, you guessed it, less efficient.
Like with most products, budget production often results in lower quality output. Consider the difference in price and get expert advice about your home’s needs before making your choice.
The polycrystalline panels might suit your needs just fine, but it’s also important to consider the climate where you live. Typically the monocrystalline panels will perform better in very hot areas.
Figuring out ways to optimize solar power is good for your budget, so consider the increased efficiency of better quality solar panels as it relates to the upfront costs. Often you will be more than rewarded for your investment.
How to Check Solar Panel Efficiency
There are a few ways to measure efficiency when talking about solar panels.
There’s the built-in capacity for each unit to convert energy and there’s the maximum energy output each panel can produce, which is affected by the factors listed above such as orientation and debris development.
Before installation, you can calculate an estimated efficiency rating by looking up the incident radiation flux for your location.
This is basically a measurement of the amount of sunlight that hits the surface of the Earth. Multiply that number by the surface area of your solar panel.
After installation, monitor the lights on your system. Green indicates all is well, but if you see yellow, orange, or red, you need to address an issue.