Solar panel efficiency has grown quite a bit since the very first solar cells were created back in the 1880s. Back then, the solar cell efficiency was incredibly low, less than 1%, and today, scientists are creating high-efficiency solar panels that can reach almost 50% efficiency! Unfortunately, the average efficiency of solar panels that are sold on a commercial level is roughly half that. But after seeing the advances that have been made in terms of solar energy efficiency over the past couple of decades, we have high hopes that this higher-solar-efficiency technology will be available to the masses sooner rather than later. Having the ability to reach a solar power efficiency of 50% would go a long way in reducing our carbon footprints. Below, you’ll find a timeline by Solar Power Guide of how solar panel efficiency over time has increased thanks to new emerging technologies and the tireless work of researchers and scientists in the field.
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The first solar panels had a very low solar efficiency of less than 1%. The process of producing an electric current from light exposure, called the photovoltaic effect, was discovered in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until later on in the 19th century that solar-powered devices would begin to be created. Charles Fritts, an inventor from New York, was the first to create a solar cell, and he did so by coating selenium with a very thin layer of gold. His selenium solar cell was only able to achieve a solar energy efficiency of about 1%, but it was the spark that began to push other scientists and researchers to improve upon his solar panel efficiency calculation in order to create their own high-efficiency solar cells.
Solar panel efficiency over time has steadily increased from its meager beginnings of barely hitting 1%. It wasn’t until 1954 that we really began to see an increase in solar cell efficiency when Bell Labs created the first silicon solar cell, which was able to reach almost 6% efficiency. The following year, Hoffman Electronics created the first commercial silicon solar cell, with which they achieved 2% efficiency. Hoffman continued to improve upon the solar efficiency of their commercial solar cell each year until 1960, when they were finally able to achieve 14% efficiency. Since then, the average efficiency of solar panels has slowly increased, with new types of solar cells being introduced along the way.
What is the efficiency of solar panels today? The most efficient solar panels on the market today have an efficiency of about 22.8%. While that may not seem like much, today’s solar panels are far more powerful than the ones created more than 60 years ago. There’s also hope for a big increase in solar panel efficiency in the near future, as researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory broke the solar cell efficiency record by creating a silicon solar cell with a high efficiency of 39.2%
Are you interested in powering your home more efficiently with solar energy? Using the correct-sized solar panel can make a big difference in its efficiency. Use our solar panel size guide to find the right size for your home, business, or recreational vehicle.