Solar Power Efficiency Improving To Help Plug Electric Gap

The low cost of fossil fuels in the United States has been the biggest obstacle in the trek to improve solar power efficiency; yet recent price increases have renewed the interest in finding an alternative source for powering the country.

In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter held a news conference on the roof of the White House to show off a new solar panel that was to provide all the hot water to the White House. He also stated a plan to have 20 percent of the electricity used in America be from solar power.

Two types of energy are being harnessed from the sun: thermal and photovoltaic, with thermal solar power efficiency being slightly better. Gathering the sun's heat through the use of parabolic antennas, and focusing it on a container filled with a heavy liquid, the liquid is heated to a boiling temperature, which in turn can heat water to produce steam to operate an electrical generator.

Typically, photovoltaic cells that convert solar energy into electrical energy are running at about a 16 percent efficiency rating, making them cost more than the electricity they produce would cost by traditional means. New technologies in the manufacturing of these silicon cells are improving the solar power efficiency to near 22 percent, but that is still too small a rating for large-scale usage of solar power.

Solar Power Efficiency For Small Scale Use

With the push for alternative fuels, the solar power efficiency for panels that can be used for residential purposes has grown considerably in recent years. The amount of power generated by solar panels is typically enough to efficiently operate electric lights, most small electric motors and many appliances. Typically, those items that require 120 volts to operate, as the batteries can recharge at least as fast as usage discharges them.

Solar power efficiency to operate heating coils or larger electrically demanding devices such as an electric clothes dryer, electric stove and electric heating element has not reached a point of rapid return on the investment. This inefficiency, coupled with the low cost of producing electricity through the current use of fossil fuels, has kept the research for more solar power efficiency methods at a minimum.

However, as prices for coal and oil continue to rise and the push continues to reduce atmospheric emissions, alternative fuel choices for producing power through solar and wind energy will continue to improve solar power efficiency research.