Advances in Solar Panel Efficiency

If you measured how much energy the sun shines on a solar panel array, then compare it to the amount absorbed, transferred and stored, you’d be looking at the statistic know as Solar Panel Efficiency.

solar panel efficiency

It took 80 years of engineering to get solar cells up to 14% efficiency. I remember attending (as a youngster) a demonstration at Edmonton’s Northern Institute of Technology in the mid 1960’s.  They said at the time that it would be virtually impossible to exceed 15% efficiency in our lifetimes.

It took 32 years – not quite a lifetime – for the University of Florida to get there. Better sunshine, probably.

As little as five years ago, peak solar panel efficiency was rated at 17.8%. Then the explosion happened. In 2015, in rapid succession, four companies separately announced breakthroughs of 18.2%, 20.5%, 22% and 22.8% efficiency. And the race was on!

In January of 2016, researchers in Switzerland achieved almost 30% efficiency. And while that was in a laboratory setting, by June of the same year, production began of commercial panels consistently achieving better than 24%. From two companies.

So far in 2017, production of high efficiency solar panels has soared, with at last count 8 separate manufacturers boasting better than 20% efficiency. This type of rapid technology growth is reminiscent of the quantum shifts in computing power we’ve seen in the past thirty years. So, if the first five of this cycle have been this wild, I can only imagine the ride we are in for over the next 25 years!

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