Solar panels reduce global warming. However, warmer temperatures reduce solar cell efficiency. It’s a classic Catch-22, chicken-or-the-egg scenario.
In the struggle between temperatures and solar cell efficiency, which side will win out?
Will solar reduce climate change enough to turn the tide? Or will increasing heat burn out solar panels before they can make a meaningful dent in greenhouse gases?
Place your bets now in the comments, and let’s see what the research has to say.
A new 2019 climate report just came out confirming what most of us already know: global temperatures and sea levels are rising, ice is melting, and disasters like wildfires, droughts, and intense storms are running rampant across the globe.
For the last five years, we have seen the hottest global temperatures in the history of recorded weather. And the situation will only continue to worsen at an alarming rate, unless we act, and act fast.
Solar technology offers a great solution for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation and curbing the progress of climate change. Solar panels can replace dirty, carbon-emitting sources of power, like fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal, with clean, renewable energy at a low cost.
To give you an idea of how effective solar panels can be, lets take a look at some of the most recent solar projects we reported on in HahaSmart’s Solar News:
- A 15,000-solar-panel plant in Brittany, France will supply power to 4,400 local residents, while offsetting carbon missions by 1,710 tons per year.
- Amazon, recently named on the SEIA’s Solar Means Business Report as a top solar adopter, says its solar power projects have offset the carbon dioxide equivalent of over million miles of truck deliveries.
- A $100 million potential new solar power plant at the Kennedy Space Center could soon power 15,000 homes in Florida while reducing more than 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year.
Not sure how much 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide is?
The EPA offers a calculator showing the massive impact this reduction can have.
100,000 tons of CO2 = over 10 million gallons of gasoline, almost 100 million pounds of coal burned, and electricity use for over 15,000 homes for a year.
That’s a LOT of pollution prevented!
Let's do one more to show how the environmental impact of home solar.
The average home uses about 108,000 kWh of electricty per year. Assuming a solar system that covers all your energy use, this is the equivalent of eliminating emissions from driving a car 186,000 miles, using 8,500 gallons of gasoline, or burning over 83,500 pounds of coal.
So by installing solar on your house, you could potentially eliminate the emissions from the entire lifetime of driving your 15-year-old beat up car. Pretty awesome!
Try it yourself! - put in your home's numbers and see how much you can save the environment by going solar today.
Clearly, solar panels are worth the initial installation cost in long-term environmental benefits alone.
Now that we’ve seen what solar can do for the environment, let’s see what our overheated environment will do to solar panels.
While solar panels need plenty of sunlight to produce energy, today’s solar cells don’t always do so well in intense heat. In fact, snow can actually be an ideal condition for the performance of solar cells.
When solar panels overheat, the electrical workings slow down and become inefficient.
Here’s how it works:
Solar cells function by capturing light from the sun and turning it into energy. Usually when light hits the earth, the energy turns into heat. When light hits materials in a photovoltaic (PV) solar cell, the photons excite electrons in atoms, knocking them free. The electric field in the solar cell moves the electrons to wires, generating an electric flow of direct current (DC), which is then changed by an inverter into the alternating current (AC) used to power your home.
However, if solar cells become too hot, more electrons than needed get excited, exponentially increasing output current, while voltage output is reduced, throwing the ratio needed for optimal energy production off balance and reducing the efficiency your solar panels by up to 25%.
Keep your panels cool
You can reduce the effects of heat on your solar panels by paying attention to the maximum power temperature coefficient (Pmax) of your panels when you purchase them.
You can also install panels a few inches above your roof to get them ventilation; ensure the panels are light-colored to reduce heat absorption; and move other equipment, like inverters, to shaded areas.
Now that we know how detrimental heat can be to a solar panel, let’s take a look at the odds panels have against it in the context of climate change.
A new study from Cornell University takes a look at the effect of the rising heat on solar panels, and how much this could reduce solar energy output over the next 80 years.
One estimate from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts emissions will peak in 2040 and increase the global temperature by 1.8 degrees Kelvin by 2100.
When Cornell researchers Peters and Buonassisi compared silicon solar panel energy outputs against the IPCC predictions, they found that energy output for solar systems will be reduced everywhere, with some areas suffering more, including the Southern US, Southern Africa and Central Asia.
They predict that photovoltaic power output, on average, will drop by 0.45% for each degree increase in temperature. This means median reductions in annual energy output of 15kWh/kWp, with reductions up to 50kWh/kWp in high heat areas.
Is this significant enough to prevent solar from curbing rising temperatures?
Solar Power World has a great explanation of what specific yield (kWh/kWp) is, or how much energy (kWh) is produced for every kilowatt of peak power (kWp) of module capacity over the course of a year, if you’d like all the juicy details.
But to simplify, the average annual specific yield of a solar system will depend on a wide range of factors, including location, solar irradiance, weather, tilt angle, type of solar module, and system efficiency.
Assuming these factors don’t vary too much, a residential solar system’s specific yield ranges from 1,095-1,455 kWh/kWp in the US.
Which means that while a 15-50 kWh/kWp (1.36-4.56%) reduction in yield would lessen the amount of energy produced, it won’t hurt enough to keep solar from making significant headway against climate change and global warming.
Plus, solar technology may change to allow for more efficient, heat-resistant panels in the future, significantly reducing these heat losses.
DING, DING, DING! The Winner Is… SOLAR!
While rising global temperatures will reduce solar output, solar will still be one of the best ways to reduce or elimate emissions and fight climate change.
Ready to join the front lines in the battle against global warming?
Not only does solar protect our environment, it will protect your wallet from hefty energy bills, too.
See how much you can save on going green with the HahaSmart Price Checker.
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