My husband sent me this video, a truly inspired entry in Environment Minnesota's solar power video contest. The contest is meant to promote solar energy in Minnesota—a goal that makes a bit more sense than you might think. Minnesota can't really rely on solar, and solar alone, to meet its energy needs, but it does have the potential to replace some of the dirty coal the state currently uses. And here's the cool thing you'll learn in the video: This is partly possible because solar panels actually convert sun to electricity more efficiently here than they do in the really hot climates we usually associate with solar power. It's an interesting lesson, and a clever video, made by a team of more than 50, led by husband and wife Steve and Lisa Fait.
Of course, there's a flip side to this, once you get past the pro-Minnesota message. This video also serves as a handy reminder that solar panels do not convert all the energy they absorb into electricity. The most efficient solar cells available to buy today can only harness about 21% of the energy they absorb. And that's in the lab, as individual cells. When you gang cells together into panels and expose them to real-world conditions, like high temperatures, you lose some more of that efficiency. In fact, part of the reason solar power is so expensive today (in general, it's the most expensive form of energy available, although that does vary a lot by location) is because of that low conversion efficiency. In order to produce a set amount of electricity, you're forced to buy more solar panels than you otherwise would have to if the panels could convert sun to electricity more efficiently.