In the world of solar energy, one of the most talked about topics is “efficiency.” Hope is eternal as the media heralds progress and scientific advancements. The promises of clean energy at an affordable cost leave the starry-eyed layperson gleaming to hope for a bright future. Yet, there are daunting challenges to progress in solar energy efficiency. I would like to believe all things are possible, but reality comes knocking. The facts speak for themselves.
Efficiency is a measurement of the actual output divided by the theoretical output—real divided by unreal. A more efficient solar panel will produce more power than a less efficient panel. So, how can we increase efficiency? What obstacles must be overcome?
The answer is far from simple, but I shall try to simplify the information by breaking it down into easy-to-understand components and then discuss possible future breakthroughs. The limitations are mostly, not exclusively, that of the semiconductor materials, panel construction, and the effects of temperature.