Can solar panels handle the heat of a warming world?

Solar cells need sunlight to generate electricity, but with rays also comes heat. As the planet gets warmer, scientists are warning that temperatures could become too high for solar panels to perform efficiently.

Currently, solar photovoltaic technology makes up 55 percent of all renewable-power capacity, and it will continue to boom, according to a 2018 report on the state of renewable energy. It’s unlikely the planet will become too hot for solar panels to function altogether any time soon. But a recent paper out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did find that for every degree Celsius rise in temperature, the voltage output of solar modules declines by an average of 0.45 percent. Under one warming scenario projected by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which estimates global temperature to rise by 1.8 degrees C by 2100, that comes out to a 1 percent reduction.

The report calculates that the median reduction will be about 15 kilowatt hours (kWh) per installation, but in some regions, where temperature rise will be greater, as much as 50 kWh. “If you look at the maps [in the report], there are places heating by a lot more than 2 degrees — places that hit close to home,”says MIT’s Tonio Buonassisi, who coauthored the study with fellow photovoltaics researcher Ian Marius Peters. These regions include the southern United States, southern Africa, and Central Asia.

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Can solar panels handle the heat of a warming world?, by Linda Poon, Grist, September 1, 2019.

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