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  Why Solar Power Is Failing Amid Record-Breaking Heat

With heatwaves being reported worldwide, leading to wildfires and other environmental concerns, at least one energy sector is getting attention for its major producing potential – solar power. But with solar panels collecting energy from the sun’s radiation, the world’s overheating may (unexpectedly) be of little benefit to solar power production. However, this is not stopping rising consumer interest as people are driven to invest in solar technology as they see both hotter summers and rising consumer prices. With some of the hottest summers on record for several decades in many parts of the world, it must be doing wonders for solar power, right? As the world heats up, people may think that more sun will bring more solar energy, even if it has been negative for many other reasons. But soaring temperatures may be hindering solar power production as solar panels work optimally at around 25oC and start becoming less efficient when the heat goes above this. And even if the heat does not hamper solar production, it is also doing little to help it.

With record temperatures being seen across much of Europe this summer, as the U.K. reached 40oC in July, solar farms have been seeing positive output levels, with Solar Energy U.K. reporting on 20th July that the country’s solar power output had “met up to a quarter of the U.K.’s power demand”. But this is mostly down to the country seeing more days of sunlight rather than higher temperatures.

Of course, when there’s sun there’s solar power. But because of the way solar panels work, they become slightly less efficient, by around 0.5 percent, for any degree over or under 25oC. This means that peak production periods in much of the world often happen in cooler spring months rather than during the summer. Although Solar Energy U.K. believes that significant disruptions would only be seen if temperatures were to rise to highs of 65oC or above. CEO of the firm, Chris Hewett, stated: “It’s marginally better for efficiency in the spring but essentially if you have more light, you produce more solar power.” He added, “You have to remember that solar panels work all over the world. The same technology we put on our roofs is used in solar farms in the Saudi Arabian desert.”

But uncertainty around what rising temperatures mean for solar panel productivity has not stopped interest in solar energy from picking up as the public sees the correlation between hotter weather and solar power production. As countries around the globe face rapidly rising consumer energy prices, utility bills are costing people hundreds, or even thousands, a year more. This has helped to shift public opinion in favor of the rapid construction of strong renewable energy sectors, as well as home solar technology installation, as they are seeing the limitations of oil and gas.

Governments have worked for years trying to boost public interest in solar and wind power, even offering households feed-in tariffs – where they provide payments to people producing their own solar power to incentivize home solar panel installation. Governments have offered to buy solar power from home producers connected to the grid and have subsidized the cost of solar technology and installation in several parts of the world. And while uptake has steadily increased, the recent surge in energy prices may be the factor that drives consumers to make the shift on a wider scale.

In the U.K., the number of searches on eBay for solar panels and solar power batteries increased by 54 percent and 134 percent respectively in June compared to the same period last year. Demand for products to track and reduce energy use, such as smart meters, has also increased. In 2020, a government report stated that around 970,000 U.K. homes had solar panels, just over 3 percent of homes, with power production increasing from 1 MW in 2008 to 11,730 MW in 2020. According to the U.K. credit company Experian, around 1.9 million households are expected to install solar panels or other renewable energy technologies in 2022, showing a significant boost in public interest.

Many consumers are put off of home solar energy due to the high installation cost of solar panels. But with electricity and gas bills set to continue rising into 2023 and beyond, many are seeing the potential value of the upfront cost. With installation in the U.K. totaling between $6000 and $18,000 on average, households will likely recoup the cost of installation in less time, potentially halving the years it takes to make the money back if energy bills continue to rise.

While the heat waves being seen across the world may not be boosting solar production in the way many might have thought, they have encouraged public interest in solar technologies. As consumers face rapidly rising energy prices and see more hot, sunny days, many are now turning to renewable energies such as solar power as an alternative to help them save money and become more self-sufficient.

[13 August, 2022 / world-energy.org ]   
 
 
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