Solar panels are tilted to face the sunlight regardless of their setup. That is because they get their energy source from sunlight before the conversion. Thus, the panels need to be more exposed to absorb the sun’s rays, whether on the roof or the ground.
So, there is no doubt that solar panels are more efficient at high altitudes. In addition, unlike sea level, they are better exposed to solar radiation. As a result, they can better harness the energy into electricity for our everyday activities.
Hence, let’s dive into everything you need to know about solar panel efficiency at high altitudes without further ado.
Does Solar Power Work Better At High Altitudes?
Solar panel systems are one of the highest clean energy generation sources, but usually, they are installed at sea level. Yet, one might wonder, does solar power work better at high altitudes? Basic reasoning would have you thinking it should because it is closer to the sun, but let’s look deeper.
Sunlight emits electromagnetic radiation, also known as solar radiation, that the PV cells in the solar panels absorb for power. However, sometimes this radiation is blocked by several factors such as dust, dirt, or snow that hinder our solar panels from fully maximizing them.
However, on the other hand, there is a less atmospheric barrier at high altitudes that might prevent them from fully utilizing the sunlight. Thus, they work better at high altitudes due to less obstruction.
Usually, the increased solar radiation exposure leads to an increase in generated voltage output, which inadvertently leads to higher efficiency. This is possible because, at higher altitudes, we get more direct irradiation and little diffused radiation.
How Can High Altitude Boost The Performance of Solar Panels?
To understand how high altitude can boost the performance of solar panels, one must understand what is inhibiting the full performance of solar panels at ground level. So, let’s discover why solar panels do not perform to their maximum on ground level.
Several weather conditions have a different but major impact on your solar panel performance. Let’s begin with a sunny day out. Contrary to popular opinions, the performance of solar panels can be highly reduced when it is too hot.
They depend on the amount of sunlight that the panels absorb, not the temperature around them. Thus, when it is too sunny outdoors, it can lead to extreme heat and cause overheating.
On the other hand, solar panels are thought to not generate electricity during snow and hailstorm. Despite it being untrue, one cannot deny that solar panels still produce less energy during this weather.
Any shade cast on your solar panel is detrimental to your panel’s efficiency. It leads to a reduction in the output of your system. Shade does not exactly have to be cloudy skies. It could be something blocking your solar panels from the sunlight rays.
Hence, when you want to install a solar panel system. First, you should ensure that there is nothing shading your PV cells in the area. For example, trees, satellite dishes, tall buildings, etc., should not block your solar panels.
You should also note that solar panels would still be able to absorb some solar radiation if installed in an area with shade. But, it would not be able to absorb the solar radiation fully.
3. Low Maintenance
Over time, there’s likely to be an accumulation of dust, dirt, or debris on solar panels. Hence, suppose you do not clean regularly or do frequent maintenance for your solar panels. In that case, they can suffer a decrease in efficiency.
This is because these specks of dirt block the panel’s cells and prevent them from being absorbed. However, your solar panels can easily perform at their best through frequent routine checks and maintenance.
In summary, we have seen factors that affect solar panels at sea level and make them unable to perform at their maximum. Hence, solar panels will experience a boost in performance at high altitudes due to the absence of shade and a decrease in weather conditions exposure.
Suitable Locations For The Installation of Solar Panels At Higher Altitude
The primary idea of installing solar panels at higher altitudes is to increase efficiency due to a thinner atmosphere. Hence, some suitable locations for solar panel installation include the following:
1. Higher Rooftops
At ground level, several factors inhibit solar panels from efficiently utilizing the sunlight radiations due to fossil fuel emissions, humidity levels, etc. However, a straightforward solution to this is to increase the position of your solar panels, and what’s a better way than higher rooftops.
It has been observed that solar panels installed at an altitude of 27.432 m per 90 feet above the ground level experienced a 7 to 12% power increase. Therefore, installing solar panels on the elevated rooftop is an excellent idea, especially in urban areas where there are a lot of emissions.
2. Mountain Areas
A recent study shows that installing solar panels above mountain peaks would help power generation during winter because of the thinner atmosphere. Plus, the solar panels are closer to the sun’s radiation. So they could easily absorb the little that’s generated by the sun.
Unfortunately, installing solar panels on mountain tops might be difficult due to their uneven terrain. Still, many countries reduce their power generation decrease during winter by putting solar panels on mountain tops.
3. Utilizing Floating Solar Balloons
Solar balloons floating above the clouds are an excellent way to generate energy. A single 10-foot solar balloon can provide a kilowatt of energy equal to over 250 feet of installed solar panels. Hence, you can expect more generated energy from these floating balloons.
These solar balloons are low impact and an affordable method to generate more energy. Usually, the balloon absorbs the solar energy and transmits the energy to a fuel cell. The energy is then converted to hydrogen to keep the balloon afloat.
However, the cell recovers the hydrogen at night and transforms it back to a charge discharged to the ground.
Do Solar Panels Work When Covered With Snow And Ice?
You have probably heard or read that solar panels work in the snow a dozen times. Of course, this is true as they are more efficient in energy production in cool areas. However, does this means that solar panels work when covered with snow and ice?
No, they do not. When snow falls and accumulates on the solar panels, the panels are blocked from sunlight and cannot absorb energy. Thus, this would lead to a decrease in electricity production.
Fortunately, snow or ice has no significant damaging effect on solar panels. They can be beneficial to our panels in the following ways:
1. Cleaning The Panels
Solar panels are installed at a tilted angle that ensures that the PV cells are directly facing the sun. Hence, after snow accumulates on your solar panel, the appearance of the sun can easily melt the snow and slide off.
However, before the sun melts away the snow, the snow must have bonded with the dust or dirt on the solar panels. Thus, the melted snow leaves your panels sparkling clean due to the anti-soiling properties of the solar panels. This could also lead to less frequent cleaning of your solar panels by yourself.
2. Increased Energy Production
Snow can increase energy production by absorbing reflected sunlight by the snow and efficiently converting it into power. Thankfully, solar panels can convert any form of sunlight into electricity, including the light reflected from snow.
Additionally, occasional cleaning of solar panels will keep the panels free of dirt and aid maximum electricity generation. So, as a bonus, if you have a solar panel installation in your home, ensure that you clean them regularly for adequate efficiency.
Advantages of Installation of the Solar Panels at a Higher Altitude
The primary benefit of installing a solar panel is better and clearer access to sunlight, but what can you earn from this? So, let’s take a quick look at the advantages of solar panels at high altitudes.
1. It Increases The Output Power
A study revealed that the energy produced from a solar system at ground level is independent of height because the maximum height of the pole is small compared to the distance between the sun and the panels. However, solar panel output increases at higher altitudes from ground level.
It is estimated that solar panels above the ground level have 7 to 12 percent more output than those at sea level.
2. It Gives More Output In Winter
Generally, solar panels suffer a decrease in energy output during winter because of the sunlight covered by clouds or the panel covered with snow. These two occurrences can reduce your panel’s ability to maximize sunlight to its peak during winter.
But, installing solar panels at higher altitudes enables better utilization of the little sun radiation gotten because there’s no obstruction such as other earth emissions to interfere with it. Thus, this leads to higher energy generation in winter.
3. It Gives Rise To The Current Produced
The solar panels at higher altitudes have access to more solar radiation, which increases the output current. Hence, the output DC of the solar panels also experiences a slight increase at higher altitudes.
Disadvantages of Installation of the Solar Panels At Higher Altitude
1. It Is Expensive
Generally, installing solar panels at higher altitudes is more expensive because of the increased costs of installing different apparatus. Additionally, there’s an increase in maintenance costs because they are exposed compared to solar panels installed at ground level.
Just as they are more exposed to sunlight, they are also exposed to harsh weather conditions that make them susceptible to damage.
2. Decreased Life of Solar Panels
Considering that solar panels are more exposed to harsh and extreme weather conditions at specific high altitudes, they are susceptible to damage. Thus, they may suffer a decreased life span.
Although a solar panel is perceived by most to last forever, it doesn’t. They last for a long time and can go as far as three decades and more, but they begin to suffer a decrease in efficiency after a long time.
So, since solar panels at high altitudes are exposed to harsh weather. In that case, they can suffer a decreased lifespan after a while.
Solar panels are more efficient at high altitudes because solar UV rays increase with altitude in the atmosphere. This is due to the decreasing air molecules, emissions and others. Plus, in addition to solar panels receiving more sunlight, it is colder at high altitudes.
The availability of undiluted solar radiations at higher altitudes allows for the production of more efficient energy generation. It is also one of the best ways to achieve maximum output with a solar panel system.