The Future of Solar Energy in a Heating World

The Future of Solar Energy in a Heating World

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While we accelerate the rate of installing solar panels on rooftops and in grid-scale farms, the world keeps getting hotter and extreme weather arrives more often, which is dangerous to the panels.

Since solar panels have to be outside, they are exposed to all weather conditions and must endure heat, snow, rain, and wind. And despite being quite durable, they have their limits, and climate change will mean many panels will degrade faster.

According to Techxplore, when installing rooftop solar panels most solar manufacturers offer a warranty of 25 to 30 years, during which they guarantee power output will drop by less than 20% over that time. The reason for the drop is that solar panels always slowly degrade over time, but different climates, different materials, and different manufacturing techniques can lead to faster or slower degradation.

Nowadays’ dominant solar technology is silicon, which degrades due to stress from the environment, voltage changes and mechanical stresses, as silicon wafers are quite stiff and brittle. The main causes of damage are environmental, humidity, ultraviolet radiation and temperature.

There are several ways in which hotter, more humid conditions accelerate degradation, and four specific types of degradation:

  • Delamination, in which heat and humidity cause the bonds holding the different layers of the cell together to lose adhesion.
  • Discolored encapsulant, in which intense sunlight and extra moisture damage or discolor the encapsulant (the polymer holding the layers of the solar cell).
  • Ribbon corrosion, in which intense humidity increases the chances moisture can accumulate and corrode the internal connections of the cell.
  • Internal circuit failure, in which the temperature fluctuations solar cells regularly experience will over time cause circuits to fail.

In terms of action, heat is the main cause of solar panels degradation, especially in hotter, more humid areas (like Australia, which greatly suffers from this issue). As the world heats up, this will turn into a real, worldwide problem. Experts claim we’ll need to incorporate new ways of cooling panels and improve the materials used, as well as improve manufacturing processes and materials to stop moisture from accumulating inside the panels. They conclude that these issues can be fixed and that the first step is to understand and acknowledge there is a problem.