A solar system can provide electricity for over two decades, saving homeowners thousands of dollars in power bills over time. Getting familiarized with the main types of solar panels is a useful first step when deciding on a solar panel system. This way, you can pick the best option for your home or business.
No matter which type of solar panel you choose for your project, make sure it's a high-quality product with a solid manufacturer warranty. Getting a professional installation is also critical, since even the best solar panels can malfunction when wired incorrectly. Poor workmanship can also create a fire risk, and the warranty will be voided if solar panels are not used as indicated by the manufacturer.
If you're ready to get a quote for a home solar installation, you can use this tool or fill out the free form below to get connected to a certified professional in your area.
3 Main Types of Solar Panels
You will find that solar panels come in many sizes, ranging from large commercial modules that are nearly 7 feet tall to compact and portable panels that fit in your pocket. However, the vast majority can be classified into three main types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. Each uses materials that produce electric power when they receive sunlight, but the specific materials used in the panels are different.
Like in any design decision, each type of solar panel has pros and cons, which are summarized below:
Type of Solar Panel
+ Highest efficiency, which means more kilowatt-hours per square foot covered
+ Long lifespan (25 years or more)
- Most expensive type of solar panel
+ Balanced cost and efficiency: intermediate between monocrystalline and thin-film solar panels
+ Long lifespan (25 years or more)
- Lower efficiency than mono panels
- High temperatures can lower their productivity and durability
+ High temperatures only have a small impact on their productivity
+ Lower weight than mono and poly solar panels
+ Lowest cost per panel
+ There are flexible and adhesive thin-film panels available
- Lowest efficiency, which means fewer kilowatt-hours per square foot covered
- Generally less durable than mono and poly solar panels
Polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels both use solar cells made of silicon crystals, but with a different physical structure. On the other hand, thin-film solar panels use non-crystalline silicon or other photovoltaic materials.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency ratings in the industry. These solar panels can normally convert over 20% of sunlight into electricity, and the most efficient panels now exceed 22% efficiency. Mono panels are an excellent choice when you have limited roof space, since they will generate more electricity per square foot.
Mono solar panels are also characterized by their black photovoltaic cells, and many homeowners prefer this appearance over the lighter blue tone of poly solar panels. The main downside of these panels is their high cost, but in return, they give you more electricity per panel you purchase.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels have a lower efficiency than monocrystalline silicon panels — typically below 17% — but they are also more affordable. High efficiency really only becomes critical when your roof has limited space for solar panels and you need to make the most of the available area. When space is not a limitation, you can simply install a few additional polycrystalline panels to compensate for their lower efficiency.
Contrary to popular belief, lower efficiency does not mean lower quality when comparing solar panels. In the case of polycrystalline panels, this is just a consequence of their material property: They have multiple silicon crystals per cell, as opposed to a single crystal that carries electrons more efficiently. You can find high-quality solar panels of both types, mono and poly, with solid warranties from their manufacturers.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels are not divided into cells like polycrystalline and monocrystalline modules. Instead, their entire surface has layers of photovoltaic material. Since these panels use material layers instead of rigid cells, they can be manufactured to be flexible and lightweight. There are also adhesive thin-film panels, which can be used on windows and other vertical surfaces. These panels are also popular for RV solar energy systems.
However, thin-film panels generally have a lower efficiency than the other two types, which means you need to cover a larger area to produce as much power as mono and poly panels. For this reason, thin-film panels are more suitable for large commercial and industrial rooftops, or ground-mounted solar farms. They are not normally recommended for homes, since they need too much space to be productive.
Key Differences: Design, Cost & Efficiency
When comparing solar panels, the purchase decision is often based on appearance, cost and efficiency. While all types of solar panels perform the same function, there are important differences between them in these three areas:
How Different Types of Solar Panels Look
The appearance of solar panels can be described based on their color and number of cells.
- Monocrystalline solar panels have black cells with cropped corners, and most panels have 60 or 72 silicon solar cells. The latest designs use 120 or 144 half-cells that boost efficiency, but panel dimensions are roughly the same.
- Polycrystalline solar panels have blue cells with sharp corners. Like mono panels, they are normally available with 60 or 72 cells (or 120 or 144 half-cells in newer models).
- Thin-film solar panels have a uniform surface with layers of photovoltaic material, instead of separate solar cells. Their color depends on the material composition, and you can find black, blue or even gray thin-film panels.
Cost of Each Solar Panel Type
The specific price of a home solar system will depend on the panel brand and model, as well as local labor costs. Also keep in mind that your total installed cost of solar will include components like the inverter, racking, wiring and circuit breakers. However, the cost of solar panels themselves can be ranked as follows:
- Monocrystalline: Highest price
- Polycrystalline: Intermediate price
- Thin-film: Lowest price
This is the general pricing trend you can expect, but there may be exceptions.
Efficiency and Power Ratings
The efficiency and power output of solar panels is closely related, since a higher efficiency means more watts with the available sunshine. However, you also need to consider the dimensions of solar panels, since a larger product has more area to collect sunlight.
Assuming you compare solar panels of similar sizes, you can expect the following ranking when it comes to efficiency and wattage:
- Monocrystalline: Top efficiency, typically over 19%
- Polycrystalline: Medium efficiency, typically 15-17%
- Thin-film: Lowest efficiency, typically below 15%
Solar manufacturers are constantly investing in research, and all three types of solar panels have been improving over time thanks to new technology. There are now thin-film panels that can match the efficiency of mono and poly panels in laboratory conditions. However, they are not widely available as commercial products yet.
What Are The Different Types of Solar Panels Made Of?
The appearance and efficiency rating of solar panels depends on their material composition. While having high efficiency is favorable, this metric is overestimated in some cases. There are high-quality solar panels of all three types, and you can get excellent results with polycrystalline and thin-film panels when space is abundant.
As mentioned above, polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels are both made of crystalline silicon wafers. However, the microscopic structure of those crystals is different in each type of panel:
- Monocrystalline solar cells are made from PV cells that are cut from a single crystal of pure silicon (hence the prefix "mono"). This is an advanced manufacturing process, which is a key reason why mono solar panels have higher prices.
- Polycrystalline solar cells are made from multiple crystalline silicon fragments that are melted together during the manufacturing process, and they are also called multicrystalline for this reason. Their manufacturing process is simpler, since there is no need to carefully grow a single crystal of silicon. This leads to a lower cost, but also a lower efficiency.
- Thin-film solar panels don't use silicon crystal cells. Instead, they use thin layers of photovoltaic material. The most common chemical compositions are copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), cadmium telluride (CdTe) and amorphous silicon (a-Si).
Choosing the Right Panel for Your Solar Installation
Monocrystalline solar panels are often considered the "best" due to their superior efficiency, but any of the three types of solar panels can achieve great performance when used in the right applications. Efficiency is only one of several performance metrics, and there are cases where polycrystalline panels offer a better return per dollar invested. Thin-film panels may not have the best efficiency, but their low weight and reduced thickness make them viable in applications where the other types are impractical.
If you're a homeowner who wants to maximize electricity production with limited roof space, monocrystalline panels are the recommended option. The same applies if you have plenty of space but want your solar panel system to be as compact as possible. Finally, mono panels are recommended if you prefer the black color of their solar cells.
When space is not a limitation for your home solar system, you can also consider polycrystalline solar panels. They are also recommended when you want to keep the budget as low as possible: Assuming equally sized systems with the same number of panels, the total cost will be less with polycrystalline options.
Thin-film solar panels are not generally recommended for residential roofs. Since their efficiency is low, you need to cover a much larger area with more panels to achieve a significant output. However, thin-film panels are excellent for recreational vehicles and camping, as they are lighter and more portable. You can also find thin-film solar panels with flexible or adhesive designs, which can be used in surfaces that are not suitable for the other two types.
So, which type of solar panel is best for your home? To find out for sure, you'll need to talk to a solar installer near you. Most of the best solar companies offer free consultations that can tell homeowners what type of panels they should buy and how much they will cost.
To get started, you can use this tool or fill out the form below and get connected to a pre-screened solar installer in your area.Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.
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In May of 2020, one-third of employed people were conducting their jobs remotely as a result of the coronavirus, up from a mere 6%. While taking our work (and many other aspects of our lives) online seems more sustainable – as our need to travel diminishes and hard copies become all but obsolete – it intensifies our digital carbon footprint, and carries a huge environmental cost.
The daily use of our devices requires a substantial amount of electricity, much of which is generated by fossil fuels. During the first months of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in January-March 2020, internet use grew by 40%, ultimately demanding 42.6 million megawatt-hours of additional electricity, according to a 2021 Yale-led study. The process of manufacturing our computers, cell phones, tablets, and other devices also has significant environmental consequences – including the mining and transportation of minerals needed to create their various chips and batteries – as does their disposal. The rapid turnover of electronics that has become commonplace generates massive amounts of e-waste, which ends up in landfills or is transported overseas where hazardous substances leak and pose threats to human health.
Yet, the impact of our digital lives goes beyond these more visible consequences. That email, digital photo album, online workout class, or shared work document saved to the cloud doesn't only exist in some nebulous, carbon-free space. The internet and our stored data are supported by data centers: enormous spaces housing energy-intensive servers that store massive amounts of data, also called server farms. These centers require a lot of electricity to run, including all of the equipment needed to cool the machines and maintain temperature-controlled environments.
These data centers and data transmission networks account for a whopping 2% of global electricity demand, says the International Energy Agency, which is comparable to the entire aviation industry. While some strides are being made towards more energy-efficient data centers, by 2040, the storage of digital data is expected to produce 14% of the world's total emissions, which is roughly what is emitted by the entire U.S. now.
All told, our devices, the internet, and all the systems that support them account for 3.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is expected to double by 2025.
As we accommodate our new digital reality, take a few steps to lower the impact of your devices and digital presence.
Reduce Your E-Waste
Fifty million tons of electronic waste are generated every year – which is equal to 1,000 laptops thrown away every second – only 12.5% of which is recycled, according to the EPA.
Resist the urge to upgrade whenever a new smartphone or computer model is released, and take care of what you have so it lasts as long as possible. Many products are deliberately manufactured to work for only a certain amount of time – a phenomenon called "planned obsolescence" – and to be difficult to fix on your own. Companies like iFixit provide free repair manuals for all kinds of devices – including iPhones and computers – and sell kits with all the tools you need to conduct the repair yourself. Apple also recently announced a new initiative called Self Service Repair, which will make parts and tools available to customers to fix some of their Apple products.
Before tossing products that still work, consider selling them or donating to local organizations – but, when it does come time to dispose of electronics, be sure to do so correctly. Research places nearby where you can bring e-waste to be recycled. Many municipalities have e-waste collection or drop-off centers, including for larger items that might not be accepted elsewhere. Local nonprofits and environmental organizations often collect e-waste, as do some manufacturers and retailers that have electronics recycling programs for consumers, including Best Buy, HP, Samsung, and Staples.
Save on electricity by powering down devices when not in use. The U.S Department of Energy recommends turning off your computer if you anticipate being away for two hours or more (which is also good for computer health). Turning down the brightness on your device also cuts down on electricity use; dimming the display to 70% can save nearly 20% of the energy used by a monitor.
Make a habit of unplugging chargers, televisions, and desktop computers when not in use – especially if you're leaving home for an extended period of time. A quarter of all energy consumed in the home comes from "phantom power," as many devices still suck up energy when plugged in, even if they're powered down. Plug devices into a power strip or surge protector that can be switched on and off to easily cut energy flow to multiple devices.
Clean Out Cloud Space
One-hundred zettabytes of data – one of which is equal to a trillion gigabytes – will be stored in the cloud by 2025 (imagine a 1 followed by twenty-three zeros) and housed in already-sprawling server farms.
Go through whatever clouds service you use – Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. – periodically and delete files you no longer need. Conduct the same process at work, and have your team approve a clean-out of mutual folders that contain unnecessary or outdated files. Store data locally on your device, or move files you don't access often to an external hard drive.
The "Big Three" cloud-computing giants – Google, Microsoft, and Amazon – have all made pushes to "green" their cloud services; Google comes out on top as the greenest cloud provider with their commitment to carbon neutrality. But environmental groups have expressed skepticism about the validity of these claims by the three companies, due in part to their reliance on emissions-offset projects, which are controversial and often used as a scapegoat for their continued use of fossil fuels.
Before choosing a cloud service for yourself or your business, look into all options available, and take environmental impact and emissions into consideration.
Limit Unnecessary Streaming
Sixty percent of internet traffic comes from videos streamed on platforms like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu, to name a few. According to The Shift Project – a French think tank – 300 million tons of carbon dioxide are generated from watching videos every year, which equates to about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
While we can't fault ourselves for kicking back and watching a good show, try to limit unnecessary streaming whenever possible. Don't keep videos playing when you leave the room or after you fall asleep, and turn off auto-play on YouTube. Close tabs on your browser that might play video ads without your knowledge.
Email More Mindfully
Sending an email is, in the end, more environmentally sustainable than delivering a physical letter, and uses only 1.7% of the energy. It does, however, still come at a cost.
Every email (taking into account all the processes behind hitting send) equates to carbon emissions: 0.3 grams of CO2 for a spam email, 4g for a regular email, and 50g for an email with a photo attached. Putting this into perspective, driving a car a little over half a mile produces roughly equivalent emissions to sending 65 emails. One estimate found that, if every adult in the United Kingdom sent one fewer email per day (such as a simple "thank you," or other unnecessary responses), 16,433 tons of carbon could be saved every year: the equivalent of taking 3,334 cars off the road.
Avoid unnecessary emailing by skipping the pleasantries and finding coworkers at the office to talk in person when possible. Delete old emails cluttering your inbox, and unsubscribe from mailing lists you don't need.
Power With Renewables
While individual consumers can't decide how data farms or big tech companies use energy, we can know that our personal devices are powered with energy that doesn't create harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to renewable energy sources – like a small solar electric system – is becoming increasingly possible for individuals, but does still come at an expense. Research which systems are possible for your home based on your budget, energy use, and state/local regulations. Some utility companies offer consumers the option to power their home with renewables, including rental properties. Look into what your energy provider offers and consider making the switch to clean energy.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia's NPR Member Station, WHYY.
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We break down what the average homeowner pays for solar in Arizona.
Anyone who has spent time in the southwestern U.S., particularly in the deserts of Arizona, would find it no surprise that the region has some of the best natural solar resources in the country. But all the sunshine in the world won't mean anything if the cost of solar panels in Arizona keeps renewable energy out of reach for homeowners across the Grand Canyon State.
From reduced energy bills to shrunken carbon footprints, there are many benefits of going solar. Regardless, for most homeowners, making the switch comes down to one key question: How much do solar panels cost in Arizona?
In this article, we'll discuss the average cost of solar panels in Arizona as well as key information about financing solar, public policies that may incentivize solar installations and more. If you want to see how much solar would cost for your home, specifically, you'll need to get a free quote from a solar installer near you. You can do so using this tool or by filling out the form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Arizona?
Solar panel costs in Arizona are about on par with the U.S average. Local factors and supply limitations don't hamper Arizona installations or pull prices in either direction. Based on market-based research and data from top solar companies, we've found that the average cost of solar panels in Arizona is $2.61 per watt (the national average is $2.66 per watt).
Of course, solar systems aren't purchased one watt at a time, so what does that price look like in terms of actual installations? Using the state average, for a modestly sized 5-kilowatt (kW) system, the total system cost would be $13,050, but after the federal tax credit is applied, out-of-pocket costs would be lowered to about $9,657.
For larger systems to be installed on homes, businesses, schools or other facilities, average solar power costs break down as follows:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Arizona Solar Panel Cost||
Federal Tax Credit
The above table provides statewide average prices, but each home solar panel installation will have its own unique characteristics, so costs will vary in actuality.
Some installations will be more straightforward (such as those on a roof that readily faces the sun) while others will be more complicated (such as an irregular-shaped roof or a ground-mounted system), so the actual price for a specific project is best estimated with an installer who can account for your individual needs.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Arizona?
There are a number of factors that can influence the cost of solar panels in Arizona, including the extent of your home's energy needs and the local incentives you're eligible for. Here are a few other key things that will play into pricing:
Not all solar energy systems are alike, and the specific equipment chosen for your project will influence the final cost. Solar panels themselves are seeing lots of research and development, meaning the most efficient solar panels can generate greater amounts of electricity — but they come at a higher cost.
Similarly, things like inverters, solar batteries and the mounting equipment needed to secure the panels to your roof will vary in cost based on the quality of materials and complexity of the install. If you opt for added features like rotating panels or smart technology, your investment will be even more significant. These factors can all be discussed during a free consultation with a solar expert.
Regardless of the size and quality of the solar system being installed, the total will usually be relatively high upfront. Because of these capital requirements, it's extremely common for customers to finance their solar systems. The type of financing used will not only impact what a customer pays upfront, but it will also affect the length of the customer's solar payback period, or how long it takes to "break even" on the investment.
Here's how the three most common payment options can affect the cost of solar panels in Arizona:
- Cash: For homeowners with the capital available to cover the full price of their solar system, it's smart to pay in full upfront. This is less common because of the aforementioned high price point, but if workable, it results in the lowest overall cost and thus shortens your payback period.
- Loans: If you're unable or unwilling to pay in full, there's the option to take out a simple loan to pay for the solar system. A solar loan can allow you to purchase a more expensive, premium system, but of course, loans come with interest, and that extra cost will eat into your payback period.
- Leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs): Lastly, potential solar customers may opt to work with a solar company that leases panels to homeowners. With this payment method, you don't have to pay upfront costs, but you also don't own the system (and, thus, are ineligible to cash in on tax credits). In the long run, the amount you will save on energy bills will be much lower, but you are also relieved of the burden of paying for the system yourself.
A third factor that really impacts the cost of solar systems for Arizonans is the choice of installation company. The solar industry is booming, and as such, there is no shortage of contractors and installers who will be eager to help you install your residential solar system.
As with any major home improvement project, different installers have their own rates, oftentimes correlated with the quality or even speed of their work, and it's up to the customer to do their homework to evaluate potential installation companies. Simply going with the lowest-cost installation company may not be wise if it isn't reputable, but at the same time, certified local installers may charge lower prices to compete with big-name national installers.
Our best advice is to look at the best solar companies in Arizona, research what deals or specials are available, and talk to neighbors or look at online reviews to find a company that offers you a good price and will deliver the quality of work you need.
Arizona Solar Incentives
Public policy leaders have done a fair job of offering financial incentives that lower the cost of solar in Arizona. Although the state's net metering program was phased out in 2016, there are still a number of tax credits and incentives available to homeowners. These include:
|Arizona Solar Incentive||How it Affects the Cost of Solar Panels in Arizona|
|Arizona solar tax credit||This statewide program allows people who install solar on their homes to be credited 25% of total installation costs (up to $1,000) in the form of a personal income tax reduction.|
|Solar tax exemptions||
The 5.6% of sales tax that's typically charged in Arizona is not applied to the purchase of solar equipment.
Similarly, most upgrades to homes will increase the value of the home, and that value is what is taxed via property taxes. Arizona, however, excludes the value increase from solar panels when evaluating how much property tax you must pay.
|Local solar incentives||On top of state incentives, numerous towns, cities and counties may have their own incentives to encourage citizens to engage with solar. Because these can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next, you should research your area (or call your local representatives) to find out more.|
|Federal solar tax credit||Anyone in the U.S., including Arizona, is able to take advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC. For any solar systems installed before the end of 2022, 26% of the cost of the system is available as an income tax credit.|
FAQ: Cost of Solar Panels in Arizona
Is it worth going solar in Arizona?
Yes, it is generally worth going solar in Arizona. Solar panels are a great way to reduce electric bills and carbon emissions for your home or business. Depending on the size and cost of the system, customers who install solar can expect to see a full return on their investment decades before the end of life of the system, turning additional savings into pure profit.
How long does it take for solar panels to pay for themselves in Arizona?
The average payback period for solar panels is about eight years, and the average lifespan of a system is about 25 years. The payback period can be greater or shorter depending on the size of installation, tax incentives utilized and total cost paid by the customer.
How many solar panels are needed to power a house in Arizona?
The average home needs about 20 to 25 solar panels to offset 100% of energy needs. However, that figure will vary widely based on the energy used by the home, the size and efficiency of the panels, how much shade falls onto the panels from nearby buildings or trees, and other factors.
The Kashmir valley is located between the Greater Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountains. It is responsible for nearly 80 percent of India's apple crop, but this may be changing. Early snowfalls this year have destroyed up to half of harvests in the valley, The Guardian reported Wednesday.
"In the light of the changing climate, apple harvesting is not sustainable [here]," University of Kashmir assistant professor Dr. Irfan Rashid told The Guardian. "Usually, Kashmir receives the snowfall after 15 December, but over the last two decades, we are experiencing early snowfalls. The harvest time for many apple varieties is November. In the last five years, we have had three erratic snowfalls and in the future the situation may exacerbate."
Weather patterns have been changing gradually in the valley for 20 years, but those changes accelerated in the last five. Rashid co-wrote a paper published in 2020 which looked at the impacts of early snowfalls in November 2018 and November 2019. The wintry weather either severely or mildly damaged nearly a third of the valley's orchards, and the affected orchards lost between four and 50 percent of their crop, with average losses of 35 percent.
All of this added up to an economic loss of five billion rupees in 2018 and 22.5 billion rupees in 2019, which saw the region's heaviest snowfall in 60 years. Officials are still working to calculate the total losses this year, but for the farmers directly affected, the loss is already clear.
"The snow has ruined us," widow and mother of two Noor Jehan told News 18 after a late October snowfall. "My kids afford education only because we grow apples. This year we are going to suffer. We depend on the proceeds of the orchard."
Another farmer, Aamir Hussain, said that 10 of his 70 trees cracked in the snow and another 15 had lost or damaged branches.
"I was devastated by the sight of the broken branches and fallen off apples. The snow was falling heavily. I stood there watching helplessly," Hussain told News 18.
One potential solution promoted by Kashmir's department of horticulture is to switch to imported "high density" apple varieties that have earlier harvest dates, according to The Guardian. Research has suggested that this could be a profitable solution despite the initial costs of replacing existing varieties. However, farmers have been hesitant to shoulder those costs, and Rashid said it could lead to the loss of local apple varieties.
"Already, the local varieties like ambri are shrinking," he said.
We walk you through the basics of solar power.
For homeowners who are looking for clean energy solutions, solar power is utterly essential. But what is solar energy, exactly, and how does solar power work?
Solar energy is the energy emitted by the sun that reaches the earth's surface. In this article, we'll cover how it's converted into electricity that we use to power our lives, as well as discuss the biggest advantages and disadvantages of using solar energy.
The U.S. has one of the best climates for solar power in the world and is home to some of the best solar companies and manufacturers. So how should we take advantage of this natural, renewable energy we enjoy in such abundance? Let's dive in.
Solar Energy Definition
In its simplest form, solar energy is the heat and light released by the sun. Individual particles of sunlight are known as photons, and they carry high amounts of the sun's energy to Earth. In fact, during any given hour, the Earth receives enough solar energy to theoretically fuel our entire population's energy needs for one full year.
But where does all of this solar power actually come from? Well, like any other star, the sun is basically one big nuclear reactor. There are nuclear fusion reactions happening in the sun's core all the time, a process through which hydrogen atoms collide and fuse to create helium atoms.
This process produces an enormous amount of energy, as the sun fuses about 620 million metric tons of hydrogen every second.
Nuclear fusion is the process through which hydrogen atoms collide and fuse to create helium atoms.MARK GARLICK / Getty Images
That solar energy can be collected here on Earth via photovoltaic technology, which converts solar energy into electricity that can be used to supply power to a home or a business. Solar power currently represents 18% of the global energy economy, and it's rapidly gaining in popularity (and necessity), largely thanks to the falling costs of solar and a desire among governments and homeowners alike to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.
Using Solar Power
You've likely heard the term "PV" associated with solar power, which as we've mentioned refers to photovoltaic technology used in most solar cells. Most commonly, PV cells are made with a silicon semiconductor due to its cost and abundance. Generally used for small-scale applications, such as residential solar systems or portable solar generators, PV represents the most common method of harnessing solar energy.
Another option, called solar thermal capture, is typically better suited to produce solar electricity on a larger scale, like in a power plant.
We'll focus more on the former, as it's the most common method.
Converting Solar Energy via Solar Panels
By installing solar energy systems made with solar photovoltaic cells, or PV cells, home and business owners can collect solar energy and convert it into electricity. Here's a breakdown of that process:
- The sun's photons reach the surface area of the solar panel, and through the photovoltaic effect, those photons excite and displace loose electrons within a solar cell.
- Solar panels are designed so that these displaced electrons flow toward metal plates that line the outside of the panel. This creates an energy current.
- This electric current within the solar panel is a direct current (DC), which has to be converted into an alternating current (AC) in order to be used as electricity for a home. Inverters convert the current from each panel.
- This AC electricity can then be channeled to the primary circuit board of your home, where it can be directed either into the home's electrical system as power or into a battery to be stored for later use. If your utility company has a net metering program, you can also send excess energy to your local power grid in exchange for energy credits.
Usable sunlight hits a solar cell, which sets off the photovoltaic effect.Alejomiranda / Getty Images
Solar PV is one of the best methods we have today for generating power on a large scale with a renewable, clean resource like solar energy.
Why Switch to Solar Energy?
The benefits of solar power go beyond just saving money on your energy bills; you can take complete control of your electricity use and energy efficiency, reducing or even eliminating your reliance on utility companies. Even more impactful, you can directly lower greenhouse gas emissions and your reliance on fossil fuels, which provides a number of tangible environmental benefits.
Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy
The environmental benefits surrounding solar energy are perhaps the most well known:
- Being a clean and renewable energy resource, collecting solar energy directly offsets carbon emissions and air pollution associated with burning fossil fuels like oil and gas.
- Though not as well publicized, mining and burning coal, as well as fracking natural gas, require an extremely high volume of freshwater. Using solar energy rather than non-renewable resources contributes to healthier water systems by fighting water scarcity and acidification.
- No matter which way you look at it, solar technology helps us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and the companies that profit off of environmental degradation. Every single home that goes solar gives a small slice of power back to the people.
Financial Benefits of Solar Energy
There are also a number of financial perks that come with solar, including:
- Solar energy use can reduce your monthly electric bills and, in some cases, eliminate those bills completely. This produces big cost savings over time.
- When you buy solar panels, there are a number of tax credits, incentives and rebates available to offset startup costs, including some available at the federal level and some that are state-specific. More companies are adopting solar financing to increase accessibility.
- Most residential and commercial solar systems will produce electricity for 20 to 30 years and require very little maintenance. This allows you to reliably budget your energy costs decades in advance rather than relying on power plants and public infrastructure, which is far less predictable.
Challenges of Solar Energy
Solar power is one of the best renewable energy sources available to us, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Some of the most significant challenges to solar energy include:
- The initial cost of solar panels is fairly significant, typically ranging between $10,000 and $20,000. Tax incentives and monthly utility savings can offset this cost, but paying these upfront costs just isn't an option for every homeowner.
- Some homes aren't suited for solar. If your house is shaded by trees or other buildings, or you don't get enough exposure to the sun, then a home solar system may not work out.
- If you live in an area where electricity is inexpensive, then the savings you get from a solar system may not be worth the cost and the hassle.
- It's much better to deal with a broken solar panel than a leaky oil rig, but even solar panels have an impact. With well over a million panels in use nationwide, we'll have to address the system for recycling solar panels.
Is My Home Suitable for a Residential Solar Energy System?
The best way to determine whether your home is a good fit for solar electricity is to contact a solar installer in your area. A solar energy specialist can come to take a look at your home and give you a custom recommendation.
Generally speaking, solar energy is best suited for those who live in sunny areas, have plenty of surface area on a south- or west-facing roof and whose homes are unobstructed by trees or neighboring buildings.
What to Look for in a Solar Energy System
As you shop around for home solar systems, make sure to keep the following factors in mind (read our guide to purchasing solar panels for more information):
- The efficiency of your solar panels, or how much sunlight they actually turn into electricity (the most efficient solar panels convert over 20%).
- The capacity of your solar battery storage system.
- Warranties and other protections for your home solar system.
- The total number of panels you need to get the desired results.
- The services offered by your solar installer (such as individual system design).
If you're interested in solar, it only takes 30 seconds to get a free, no-obligation quote. You could save up to $2,500 per year on utility bills and get a tax rebate all while reducing your carbon footprint. Use this tool or fill out the form below to get started.
FAQ: What is Solar Energy?
What is solar energy in simple words?
Solar energy, in simple words, is the light and heat radiated by the sun. Here on Earth, we can collect that solar energy with solar panels and convert it into electricity we can use to power our homes.
What are five advantages of solar energy?
Five advantages of solar energy include:
- It's a truly renewable energy source that directly offsets carbon emissions and air pollution.
- It helps homeowners save money on power bills.
- There are low maintenance costs for homeowners.
- Solar can be used in remote applications to power homes or shelters that aren't connected to an energy grid.
- Solar panel manufacturing and installation creates thousands of green jobs per year.
How do you explain solar energy to a child?
Here's how we would explain solar energy to a child: You know how when you step into the sun, you feel hot? That heat is a form of energy. Solar panels are a way of catching that energy, and using it to power your home.Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
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The news is full of dire warnings about the future and current health of the Great Barrier Reef, but the World Heritage Site is not dead yet.
"Nothing makes people happier than new life, and coral spawning is the world's biggest proof of that," Reef Teach principal marine scientist Gareth Phillips said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.
Coral spawning is one way in which corals reproduce. During most of the year, the jellyfish-like animals reproduce asexually. But, once every year, they send tiny balls containing sperm and eggs up into the water. These balls break apart, the sperm and eggs bump into each other and new coral babies are born.
Phillips has spent the past 10 years watching coral spawning, which typically occurs at night when there are fewer predators. This year, billions of babies were born, and the display was uniquely impressive.
"I've seen the corals all go off at once, but this time there seemed to be different species spawning in waves, one after the other. The conditions were magical with the water like glass and beautiful light coming from the moon," he said.
Phillips said he first observed Acropora, or branching corals, release pink-mauve balls and then Porites, or boulder corals, releasing what looked like a plume from a flooding river.
The millions of new coral babies are good news for the reef after a difficult few years. The climate crisis has had a severe impact on the 2,600 kilometers (approximately 1,616 miles) of coral as warmer than usual ocean temperatures encourage coral bleaching, when the coral expel the algae that give them both nutrients and color. The reef suffered back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and again in 2020. A recent study found that the five mass bleaching events since 1998 had left only two percent of the reef unscathed.
However, the spawning gives the scientists who observed it hope for the vulnerable ecosystem.
"It made me so excited about the future – there is just so much potential for this reef," marine science student Nicole Rowberry said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.
Phillips also observed that the spawning occurred as Australia is emerging from 18 months of border closures due to the new coronavirus.
"It is gratifying to see the reef give birth. It's a strong demonstration that its ecological functions are intact and working after being in a recovery phase for more than 18 months," Phillips said. "The reef has gone through its own troubles like we all have, but it can still respond, and that gives us hope. I think we must all focus on the victories as we emerge from the pandemic."
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In July, the water levels of Utah's iconic Great Salt Lake fell to a record low.
But this wasn't an isolated incident. A combination of the climate crisis and human water usage have reduced the lake so utterly that The Salt Lake Tribune and AccuWeather announced Monday that they were redrawing their maps to show how how much the lake has really changed.
"The need to redefine the boundaries of the Great Salt Lake is a striking reminder of the profound impact of record-low water levels to the delicate and complex ecology of the Great Salt Lake and its wide-ranging importance to the people and economy of Utah," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Jonathan Porter told The Salt Lake Tribune. "AccuWeather is committed to accurately depicting the boundaries of lakes to highlight the impact of climate change on our changing world."
Historically, the surface of the Great Salt Lake sits at 4,200 feet above sea level, which is what maps formerly showed and is also the sweet spot for the health of the lake and the creatures that live there.
Now, the lake is "a puddle of its former self," as The Salt Lake Tribune put it, sitting at 4,190.6 feet above sea level, or about 10 feet lower than typical. It also only contains 7.7 million acre feet of water, which is about half of the historical average.
This is a problem, because the lake is an important ecosystem that provides many benefits to Utah's animals, humans and economy. The edges of the lake are home to brine shrimp that provide food for migratory birds, Yahoo News explained. When the lake shrinks, these shrimp and the animals that eat them are at risk. In fact, the wetlands surrounding the lake are one of the most important migratory bird habitats in North America, welcoming around 250 species, columnist Robert Gehrke wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune.
When the lake dries, it also threatens human health because the dry, exposed lake bed is fuel for dust storms. When water levels fall, the marinas also become unusable by boaters, which is a problem for recreation and other industries.
Finally, the lake helps produce lake effect snow storms that generate water for the surrounding area, Yahoo News noted.
"From a health perspective, from an economic perspective, from an environmental perspective, the Great Salt Lake is a national treasure and must remain so. It's not just the Great Salt Lake. It's the Colorado River Basin, it's all our lakes and streams and [water] storage capacity in the state," Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a Thursday news conference reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. "This is an all-hands-on-deck issue."
The lake's shrinking is partly due to water management issues. In fact, as Gehrke observed, a study found that the lake would be 11 feet higher if it weren't for water diversions upstream for agriculture and residential uses. Currently, Utah allocates water rights based on "beneficial use," meaning right holders have to put it to an agricultural or economic purpose. Gehrke argued that the state should start prioritizing water for conservation as well.
"If we make conservation a priority or at least on equal footing as agriculture, conservation groups and governments can start dedicating water rights for the lake," he wrote.
The lake's shrinking is also an example of how climate change and drought can impact water systems.
"As we change the climate, we have learned over the last many decades that we are also going to fundamentally change how much water we get and where we get it, the intensity of storms, rainfall patterns, the severity of droughts and floods, the demand for water from crops and from our natural vegetation," climate scientist Peter Gleick told Yahoo News.
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This holiday season, you may be anticipating spending time with some family members that, let's just say, don't share your concern for the environment. If you find political and generational differences becoming more apparent, you may be wondering how to speak about something as important as sustainability in a way that will resonate with others.
We're here to help. Below, you'll find nine of the most common arguments against solar. Of course, this goes beyond just speaking with family — we hear the following misconceptions about solar from a number of sources, so we've decided to put together a guide about how to address them.
1. We don't get enough sunshine here.
This is one of the most common counter-arguments to solar that we hear. If you're reading this from anywhere in the continental U.S. (except maybe Seattle), you probably get enough sunshine for solar to be worthwhile. Take a look at Germany's irradiation map below. The country meets over 40% of its energy needs with renewable energy, but the majority of its cities receive noticeably less sunlight than northern U.S. cities like Chicago, New York and Minneapolis.
U.S. and Germany photovoltaic power potential comparisonWorld Bank Group
What's more, states like New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York routinely rank as some of the top states for solar energy. As you can see below, solar capacity in the U.S. is not confined to southern states in the Sun Belt. Though a solar energy system in Maine won't be quite as efficient as one in Arizona, it can still generate enough electricity to make an installation well worth the money.
Energy Information Administration
We'll leave you with one last fun fact in this section: solar panels actually work more efficiently as temperatures decrease. You'll even see later on in this article that one of the top solar panels on the market is Canadian. Canadian!
2. It's too expensive.
Solar panels are expensive! We understand that. The cost of solar won't be worth it for everyone. However, by buying a solar energy system, you're essentially paying for 25 years of electricity in advance.
When coupled with the solar tax credit, local incentives and energy savings, most solar energy systems pay for themselves in around five to 12 years. From there on out, your house will be running on free, renewable energy. It's not uncommon for homeowners to save nearly $50,000 over the lifetime of their system.
As we touched on in our first misconception, you might not reach a figure as high as $50,000 in a state like Minnesota, but you'll still likely save numbers in the tens of thousands.
3. Aren't solar panels all made in China?
To answer this question, let's take a look at our top solar panels of 2022 and where they're made:
- LG: South Korea
- SunPower: USA
- Panasonic: Japan
- Silfab: USA
- Canadian Solar: Canada
- Trina Solar: China
- Q Cells: Germany, China, Malaysia, USA and South Korea
- Mission Solar: USA
- REC Solar: Singapore
- Windy Nation: USA
We'll give China 1.5 out of 10 there. Also, it's worth noting that a number of the top solar companies — even those that service homes internationally — are based in the U.S.
What we will admit, however, is that China is a global leader in its investment and procurement of rare metals like cobalt, which are used in storage systems like EV batteries. This is quite different from "all solar panels are made in China," but it's still an environmental and social consideration that holds weight.
4. There will be an even bigger tax credit soon.
Given the incredibly low price of solar, don't count on a bigger solar tax credit. The current tax credit has been in place since the Bush administration. It started as a 30% credit and was introduced as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Over the years, the policy has been extended, but it has slowly declined in value, now covering just 26% of a system. In 2023, it's set to be reduced to 22%, and it's not slated to be extended thereafter. Now that solar has reached a reasonable price point, the government won't see as big a need to offer financial incentives.
5. Why switch to solar myself when public utilities should do that?
Of all the arguments in this piece, I find that this one makes the most sense. It's not a bad point.
However, one of the biggest benefits of solar energy (especially residential) is that it decentralizes our energy infrastructure. This means that every house that installs solar panels eases the burden placed on our public infrastructure to generate, transport and distribute immense loads of power to a growing nation. A decentralized clean energy economy would provide enormous benefits to the nation: lower overall costs of energy, cleaner air and water, increased access to public lands and more.
By investing in solar, homes are directly offsetting the huge impact of electricity as a public service. Even if utilities do switch entirely to renewable sources, we don't see it happening anytime soon, and energy rates certainly aren't projected to be lower than the cost of solar.
6. I might want to sell my house at some point. I can't move with solar panels, and buyers won't want them.
While it's technically doable, it's not cheap to remove solar panels and reinstall them on a new home. However, homes with solar panels are actually more desirable on the market, as solar actually adds to your property value.
The myth that solar panels aren't attractive to buyers stems from the solar leasing business. A solar lease seems like a quick and easy way to cut energy costs and impact (which is true to some extent), but ultimately, a bad lease can tie a homeowner down.
There are a few reasons for this. First, when you sell your home, you have to convince the new owner to assume the lease. This doesn't always happen. Second, canceling your lease isn't always an option, as cancellation fees on some bad lease contracts reach as high as $20,000.
What about homeowners who don't lease but instead take out a solar loan to purchase their panels? Will the new homeowner have to finish paying off the system?
It depends on your solar financing agreement, but in most cases, you can use some of the profit from your home sale to pay off your remaining loan balance. Because of your higher property value, even after paying off the loan, you should still make more on the sale than you would have without solar panels.
7. Won't solar panels damage my roof?
When properly installed and maintained, solar panels are perfectly safe for your roof. Some solar companies specialize in roofing and even improve the structural integrity of your roof as part of their services. Similar to any other contractor, if you hire a shoddy one, you won't get a great result.
Some modern solar panels are even being built into roof tiles. How can solar damage your roof when solar is your roof? We expect solar installations to become a mainstream practice of roofing contractors.
8. Climate change is natural, and we can't do anything about it.
I would hope that no one in your household has ever said this, but sadly, we still hear this more than we'd like to.
Human activities have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, unequivocally leading to climate change.
Without human activity, the climate would actually sooner cool down than heat up. We've also heard arguments about carbon being a good thing, not the boogeyman we're led to believe. Sure, carbon is natural, and it's an essential part of our atmosphere. But too much of anything throws off the balance, and our carbon emissions are doing just that.
This argument may not be one you can win if the person you're debating doesn't trust science, but the issue is important enough that you should keep trying to get through to them any way you can. (Here's another resource that may be helpful: How To Talk To People About the Climate Crisis When Scary Facts Are Not Enough)
9. I like things the way they are.
Living in southern Louisiana, I have to say this one hits pretty close to home. Oil and gas profits provided the foundation for an entire culture on the Gulf Coast, where oil companies are household names that sponsor state fairs and the chimneys of gas refineries are so tall they dwarf even the city skylines. It's hard to imagine life down here without oil and gas.
This is likely the toughest argument to counter. Resistance to change is often part of what defines a culture, so when addressing this, we advise you to appeal to your audience. Knowing the person who you're speaking to, what might get them to care about the climate crisis? Do they have children? Grandchildren? Do they care about saving money? Do they care about the supply of most holiday pie ingredients?
If the last one doesn't work, you may be on your own.
All jest aside, it can be exhausting to debate the importance of science and impactful change with people you love. Remember to try and approach subjects in ways that resonate with whomever you are speaking to, tailor your message accordingly and try to keep frustrations at bay.
The holidays can be a stressful enough time without discussing the fate of the natural world, so if necessary, don't hesitate to drop the conversation — but remember to revisit it at another point during the year.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America this month, found that bee populations can take a hit for generations if a bee is exposed just once to a common pesticide during its first year of life.
"Especially in agricultural areas, pesticides are often used multiple times a year and multiple years in a row," study lead author and University of California in Davis ecology Ph.D. candidate Clara Stuligross told The Guardian. "So this really shows us what that can actually mean for bee populations."
Stuligross and her team studied a type of bee called the blue orchard bee. These bees are about the size of a honeybee, but they live alone and have a blue, metallic color, National Geographic explained. They are also important pollinators for native U.S. wildflowers and crops like apples, cherries, almonds and peaches.
The researchers exposed the bees to a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, which is the most commonly used neonicotinoid in the U.S. and one of the most used in California specifically, according to The Independent.
Neonicotinoids are well known to be harmful to bees and other insects because they bind to their nerve cells and prevent the insect from transmitting electrical signals, National Geographic explained. However, this study is unique in showing how exposure can continue to impact bee populations for generations, something known as the "carryover effect."
The scientists exposed the bees to the pesticide at different life stages and got the following results, The Guardian explained:
- Bees exposed only in their first year of life saw 20 percent fewer offspring.
- Bees exposed once as adults had 30 percent fewer offspring.
- Bees exposed once as both larvae and adults had 44 percent fewer offspring.
The research therefore adds to the evidence the neonicotinoids are harming bee and insect populations, which have both taken a dive in recent decades.
"These findings support what many of us beekeepers and solitary beekeepers suspect is happening in agricultural fields," researcher and beekeeper Steve Peterson, who was not involved with the research, told National Geographic. "We are seeing massive declines in all kinds of insects over the past several decades and much of it may be due to pesticide residues in the environment."
A quarter of bee species have not been sighted since the 1990s, and insects that live on land have seen their populations fall by around 25 percent in the last 30 years and 50 percent in the last 75. Pesticides are considered a major threat to insect populations, along with other stressors like habitat loss, pollution and the climate crisis.
The latest research offers another argument that U.S. regulators should follow the EU and ban neonicotinoids.
"I hope that the EPA will review studies like this and carefully consider these kinds of effects in their risk assessment," Peterson told National Geographic. "I do think that multigenerational and non-direct contact studies need to be required as part of the risk assessment for pesticides."
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This distinction will then need to be considered in future policymaking decisions.
The proposal is an extension to the UK's existing Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which originally categorizes all animals with backbones as sentient creatures. The new additions for decapods and cephalopods would add several invertebrates to the law, including lobsters, crab, shrimp, octopi, and squid, all of which are often caught and slaughtered brutally for consumption.
There will be no immediate effect on current industry practices or restaurant kitchens should the bill pass, but it does set the stage to create new laws and protections for these animals. For example, it could prohibit the act of boiling lobsters alive — common in cooking — because of their ability to feel pain and suffering. Switzerland, Norway, and New Zealand already ban this practice. It may also introduce more humane ways of capturing the animals.
A recent report from the London School of Economics found evidence of sentience in decapods and cephalopods through analysis of more than 300 studies. The researchers used eight criteria for determining likelihood of sentience, such as possession of nociceptors, responses to anaesthetics or analgesics, and whether or not the animals exhibited self-protecting tactics when injured or threatened. The authors found it very likely for these creatures to feel pain.
"In the light of these evaluations, the authors make a strong recommendation that all cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient animals for the purposes of UK animal welfare law," Nicola S. Clayton, professor of comparative cognition at University of Cambridge, said in the report. "They recommend against declawing, nicking, eyestalk ablation and the sale of live decapod crustaceans to untrained, non-expert handlers, and they include suggestions for best practices for transport, stunning and slaughter."
The government responded with a proposed expansion of the Animal Welfare Bill to include cephalopods and decapods. The proposal is currently making its way through the UK Parliament's House of Lords, then it will move to the House of Commons.
"The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our Action Plan for Animal Welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals," Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said in a press release. "The Animal Welfare Sentience Bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.
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"This is a wonderful, wonderful place to start," said environmentalist Bill McKibben.
The measure prohibits public investment in any financial instrument deriving more than 15% of its revenue from fossil fuels, as well as from tobacco products or jail or prison facilities.
"Boston, as a finance hub, is looked to for leadership. By signing this ordinance, Mayor Wu signals that she is serious [and] that Boston is serious" about pursuing climate goals, Mary Cerulli, founder of Climate Finance Action, told the Boston Globe.
Boston is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and is already spending millions of dollars on short-term projects to prevent flooding in its subway system, the oldest in the country.
The ordinance does not apply to the city's pension investments, which are governed by state law. The divestment ordinance is the latest in a growing drumbeat of divestment moves, including by New York City and Harvard University earlier this year.
As reported by the Boston Globe:
At the signing event, U.S. Senator Edward Markey — the author of the federal Green New Deal legislation — said Boston's divestment represents "what a Green New Deal city looks like in the United States."
"Boston is at the center of this dangerous science experiment which is taking place on this planet, with the fossil fuel companies using us as the experiment," Markey said. "What the mayor is signing today is a declaration of independence from the oil, gas, and coal industries."
At the signing on Monday, activists applauded Boston's move. Activist, author, and educator Bill McKibben, who has led the divestment movement nationally, called Wu's signing of the ordinance transformative — what he said would probably be the first of many decisions that will cement Boston as a leader on climate.
"This is a wonderful, wonderful place to start," McKibben said. "To stand up to power and say: No more. Time now for real change before it gets any later."
For a deeper dive:
It is currently illegal to feed manatees, which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. However, so many manatees have died of starvation this year that state and federal officials are ready to take drastic measures.
"We are considering a pilot program to do some supplemental feeding," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) chairman Rodney Barreto told the Miami Herald. "We continue to rescue manatees, and we want to be able to rescue even more during this emergency."
As of November 12, 1,003 manatees have died in the state of Florida this year, according to FWC figures reported by CNN. This means deaths have more than doubled since the same time last year, when 498 manatees had died. The 2021 death toll also represents more than 10 percent of Florida's entire manatee population, the Miami Herald reported.
The deaths have been classed as an Unusual Mortality Event and are largely due to starvation. The most hard hit population are the manatees that live in Brevard County's Indian River Lagoon, where around 58 percent of the seagrass that manatees feed on has died in the last 11 years. This loss in an important food is partly due to algal blooms caused by nutrient pollution, which block sunlight from reaching the seagrass. Nutrient pollution can come from wastewater, microplastics and factory farming, and scientists say the manatees' distress indicates broader problems.
"A lot of our environments are under pressure, and if we do not relieve that pressure, those systems will break," Michael Walsh, a clinical associate professor of aquatic animal health at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, told CNN. "This is a continual warning sign that this is a gigantic ecosystem problem, not just a manatee problem."
However, to help the manatees right now, state and federal officials are working together on a response. The feeding proposal awaits permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Miami Herald reported. Then, officials need to figure out what foods are best for the manatees. One option is to add more algae to their ecosystem. The other is to feed them common land-grown vegetables.
"But we need to test all that, we don't know what foods they will accept. When you put lettuce in an estuarine environment, it's going to wilt faster. So that may not work at all, we may need to use cabbage," Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose told the Miami Herald.
In the longer term, Rose and other activists hope that manatees will once again be listed as endangered, after they were downgraded to threatened in 2017.
"We're hoping this will be a wake-up call for all of Florida and for the federal agencies," Rose said.
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So, you've read up on the best solar panels available and have decided to prioritize efficiency. Smart move. Buying the most efficient solar panels provides you with the most bang for your buck when working with limited roof space and is often (but not always) the best choice for homeowners.
In its simplest terms, solar panel efficiency refers to the amount of sunlight that falls on the panels that is converted into energy, or solar power. In this article, we'll break down what makes solar efficiency important and help you pinpoint the most efficient solar panels for your home.
If you're ready to seek out a certified solar installer in your area, you can use this tool or fill out the form below to get connected and receive a free quote.
Understanding the Efficiency of Solar Panels
Efficiency measures the amount of electricity a solar panel produces relative to the amount of sunlight (or irradiation) that strikes its surface. The most efficient solar panels on the market today only reach about 22.8% (shoutout to SunPower) — meaning that the panel converts about 22.8% of the sun's irradiance into usable AC electricity.
This may sound like a small amount, but the rapid progress of solar technology has surpassed most expectations. Only about 10 years ago, solar panels averaged around 15% efficiency. The first solar panels from the mid-1950s only reached an efficiency of 2%. There are currently panels in development reaching efficiency levels nearing 50% that we may see hit the market sometime in the future.
Tracking Solar Panel EfficiencyData Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
What Are the Most Efficient Solar Panels Available Today?
With so many recent advancements in solar technology, let's take a look at the most efficient solar panels available in 2022. Based on our research, these are the best solar panels for efficiency at the time of publication:
Most Efficient Solar Panels
SunPower Maxeon M-Series
LG NeON R
Jinko Solar Tiger Neo
REC Solar Alpha
Trina Solar Vertex S
FuturaSun FU M Zebra
LONGi Solar Hi-MO 5
Q Cells Q.Peak DUO G9+
Power refers to the wattage output capacity of the panel. The more powerful the panel, the more electricity it is able to produce. Note that power works in conjunction with efficiency, rather than determining it.
What Determines Solar Panel Efficiency?
Two main factors determine solar panel efficiency: the makeup of the photovoltaic (PV) cell, and the structure of the panel. You might wonder what differentiates the two.
Solar Cell Efficiency
A solar cell is the smallest unit within a solar panel, usually composed of silicon atoms. The photovoltaic effect — which is the process by which sunlight is turned into electricity — happens in the solar cells themselves, and solar panels join together multiple cells to produce higher amounts of power and allow that power to flow through a home.
Solar cells on a solar panelvisdia / Getty Images
The most efficient types of solar panels are usually monocrystalline (rather than polycrystalline or thin-film). In this type of panel, the solar cell is cut from one solid silicon crystal. This leads to fewer imperfections in the cell, making them more capable of absorbing sunlight and, thus, more efficient.
It's possible you've heard about N-type or P-type solar cells in your research as well. This won't matter very much to the average customer, but if you're curious, these solar cell types differ in their chemistry due to the number of electrons they carry. N-type cells are negatively charged (via phosphorus), while P-type cells are positively charged (via boron). Multi-junction solar cells exist, too, made with both P- and N-type materials.
Solar Panel Efficiency
Overall solar panel efficiency has more to do with the structure of the panel itself. Even if you have the most efficient solar cells available, the next step is to gather those electrons and direct a current in a specific direction. A solar panel has to be as smoothly interconnected as possible, so as not to lose any energy in this part of the process. Temperature, cell type and design will have a large effect on overall efficiency in this context.
Why Is Solar Panel Efficiency Important?
It would be unfair to equate the most efficient solar panels with the best solar panels, as a number of other factors — namely durability, cost, warranty and power — can have a large impact on overall quality.
However, in residential solar, efficiency is typically one of the more important considerations. Here's why.
Quicker Payback Period
The more efficient your solar power system, the higher your power output will be, and the more quickly you'll recoup your initial investment. The cost of solar panels can be intimidating, but efficient panels will help slash a larger portion of your electricity bills, accelerating your solar payback period.
Something else to keep in mind is that the more efficient your solar panels are, the lower number of solar panels and inverters you'll need to achieve your home energy goals.
Better for Limited Space
Many residential solar energy projects are confined in terms of space available for solar panels. Some might see their roofs and think there's plenty of space, but zoning laws and regulations often require spaces between panels and gaps between the arrays and the sides of the roof. For homes with less roof space, high-efficiency panels allow you to do more with less.
In commercial solar installations where you have more space to work with, efficiency won't be as big a factor.
Doing More With Less
In addition to working with limited space, requiring fewer solar panels lowers the impact of your solar project itself. As Dr. Yifeng Chen, head of efficiency research and development at Trina Solar, says, "improving module efficiency is a key to helping customers save land, labor, cables, etc."
The highest-efficiency solar panels require fewer materials, shipping costs and waste. It may not seem like much to shave off one or two panels from your solar array, but seeing as the U.S. averages some 3 million solar installations per quarter, the impact can add up.
Other Factors Impacting Efficiency
At the risk of getting too technical, here are a number of other aspects of solar panels that factor into efficiency.
The spectrum of light that a solar cell is able to absorb can vary. Most modern solar cell technology is only capable of capturing visible light, excluding other wavelengths like infrared and UV rays. In general, the wider the spectrum of light that can be captured, the more efficient the cell will be. Some researchers are currently focusing on solar cells capable of capturing infrared rays, which would dramatically increase efficiency.
High temperatures and extreme weather conditions can put a lot of stress on a solar panel. In fact, solar panels are actually more effective in colder conditions when they can work without overheating. Panels that are durable, and that can withstand high temperatures, will have greater overall efficiency and lifespan.
Solar panels need a protective coating on them to ensure their longevity. What's challenging, however, is that this protective coating shouldn't reflect any of the potential energy the solar cells are trying to capture. Higher-efficiency panels will have high-quality protective coatings that reflect the least light possible, increasing overall energy production.
Environmental Factors Affecting Efficiency
While solar panel efficiency is determined in large part by solar cell technology and the construction of the panels themselves, there are also a number of other real-world contributors to the overall amount of power your system will be able to generate.
Climate and Latitude
Climate and latitude have a large impact on the overall efficiency of your solar energy system. The closer you live to the equator, the more direct sunlight you'll receive on an annual basis. Climate factors in as well. If you live somewhere rainy or often covered by clouds, you won't get as much production out of your system.
Solar Panel Orientation
Similar to the role of latitude, your panel orientation will affect efficiency. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the best direction for your solar panels to face is south (and north if you're in the southern hemisphere), as this is how they will get the most direct sunlight. If your roof isn't at a great angle for solar, your system will be less efficient.
Dirt, Dust or Grime Buildup
This factor is particularly unappreciated — you might be surprised how much production you lose when you don't clean your panels. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to give your panels the routine maintenance they deserve to keep your home powered on clean energy.
How to Find the Most Efficient Solar Panels
Solar panel manufacturers continue to make large strides in solar panel efficiency as the industry continues to recognize its value. Highly efficient, monocrystalline panels are ideal for residential solar systems, as those projects typically have the least amount of space to work with. For this reason, most top solar companies should be certified to sell and install the most efficient solar panels listed above.
If you're looking to invest in high-efficiency panels, we recommend getting in touch with solar installers near you to inquire about their product portfolios. Now that you know so much about solar efficiency and why it matters, you'll be well prepared to find the proposal with the best value for your money.
To start getting in touch with certified local installers, you can use this tool or fill out the form below.
FAQ: Most Efficient Solar Panels
What is the most efficient solar panel?
As of publication, SunPower's M-Series panels hold the throne for the most efficient solar panels on the market, at 22.8% efficiency. Though there are more efficient solar panels in development, it will be some time before they're available commercially.
Can solar panels be 100% efficient?
"In science, nothing is ever 100%." — Michio Kaku
For a common solar panel to be 100% efficient, it would have to convert all potential energy that strikes its surface area into AC electricity. This means a solar panel would need to absorb no heat, cover every spectrum of light, not reflect any light, and not lose a single electron over decades of complex chemical processes.
However, there is research being done on what's called "multiple exciton generation" (MEG). Researchers claim solar cells have surpassed 100% efficiency using MEG, a process by which "a single high energy photon can produce more than one electron-hole pair per absorbed photon. The extra efficiency comes from quantum dots 'harvesting' energy that would otherwise be lost as heat." So, 100% efficiency may be attainable if we think outside the box.
Which solar panels produce the most electricity?
Another way to phrase this might be, "which solar panels are the most powerful?" This is measured by wattage. This past year was a landmark year for the power of solar panels, as some commercial and industrial panels from brands like Jinko and Trina are nearing 700 W.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
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