On average, a solar panel only converts about twenty percent of the Sun’s energy into usable electricity.

Is that number too low? Will solar panel efficiency improve?

In a live Tech Briefs webinar this week titled The Latest Technologies for Energy Harvesting, a reader asked our speaker Jeff Crystal, COO of the Brooklyn, NY-based solar power company Voltaic Systems:

“When do you anticipate solar panel efficiency to improve? Nineteen- to twenty-percent efficiency seems low.”

Read Jeff Crystal's edited response below.

Jeff Crystal, Chief Operations Officer, Voltaic Systems: Don’t hold your breath.

When I started the company about 8 years ago, we were purchasing solar cells that were in the 17 to 17.5 percent range. We’re seeing about a half percent improvement per year today. So, it’s a very linear flow.

The most efficient cells are for satellites, and they tend to be very expensive on a per-watt basis. What we are seeing are huge improvements in the energy efficiency of communication systems.

The same solar panel will be able to send more data over Cat-M1, NB-IoT, or cellular modems like 3G or LTE.

Solar panels aren’t getting much more efficient, but the things that they’re running are.

What do you think about the future of solar power? Will solar panel efficiency improve at greater rates? Share your comments below.