In our 12-years in the solar industry, as well as the improved mounting systems, car charging, battery storage (to be covered in future posts) one of the key drivers to the industry has been the improvement in the panel efficiency, as well as the growth in the panel sizes. Looking back at our first installs in 2010 and 2011 we were installing 220w – 250w panels, which at an efficiency of only 14.8% seem positively unproductive now.
Since then efficiencies have improved hugely, current panels are up around 20% – 21%, and panels are much better looking now with all black frames and often all black backsheets, making them aesthetically much more pleasing (of course our own SolaSkirt is doing much to improve that by giving even silver framed panels a sleek black or silver trim), meaning that the average panel has risen to circa 385w – 390w per panel, a huge rise of almost 60%.
However its important to bear in mind that panel sizes have risen at the same time, back in 2011 the 240w Suntech panel above that we installed was 1.66m x 0.991m, so a total of 1.63 sq mtrs. Compare that to the latest high efficiency mid-range priced panels (more efficient ones are available such as SunPower) are 1.722m x 1.134m, which is 1.95m, a 20% increase in area. This makes a big difference when trying to fit panels onto the roof and its important for customers and architects to know about this. We are still amazed when we get new architect drawings sent in showing 250w 1.7m panels which then need to be completely redone.
And bigger panels than that are available, with JA Solar releasing a monster 460w 72 cell panel that is 20.7% efficient and stands 2.1m high by 1.05m wide.
So what does the future hold?
The maximum solar efficiency recorded so far is 33% due to energy barriers at the molecular level, so while improved efficiencies are on the cards its likely to reach a limit fairly soon and won’t achieve anything like the gains we have seen in the last 10 – 2o years. However what we can expect to see is a rise in more available panels at the 20% – 21% efficiency mark. Previously to get the top efficiency panels you had to pay more per kW (sometimes a lot more), but with the mass producers pushing the envelope it makes solar more affordable and productive than ever.
This means its possible to get more, better looking, solar on your roof, and with inverter technology improving all the time its never been a better time to install solar. SolarEdge have recently announced that their inverters can now be oversized to 200%!! This means in the UK that with a G98 limit of 3.68kW per phase its now possible (without putting in a grid application) to install up to 7.36kW of solar on a 3.68kW inverter, and while this may lead to some clipping at the top of the solar curve on a sunny day, it will work so much better through the rest of the year (clipping can be removed by installing a SolarEdge battery).
And with energy prices rising and battery storage improving the Return On Investment in solar is now as good as it has been since 2013 after the FIT suffered its first few dramatic cuts, and this is being generated the right way. When the government launched the Feed-in Tariff the idea was always to incentivise the market and help to drive down prices and drive up panel efficiencies, along with many other countries, so that installing solar made sense on its own without any subsidies, something that we are glad to see has been achieved.
In our 12-years the market is in the best place it has ever been, and with better battery systems on their way the future is looking brighter than ever for the UK solar industry, for customers and installation companies alike.