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Does altitude affect solar panels’ performance?

solar panels altitude effect

Solar panels are devices that can harness the energy of sunlight, and convert it into electricity.

Solar power generation is more efficient at high altitudes than sea level as a result of increased solar radiation exposure levels which leads to an increase in generated voltage output.

Thus, solar panels installed at a specific altitude ahead of the ground can increase the efficiency and power output, which can be identified as a most simple solution in order to utilize the fewest resources possible to achieve the greatest possible output.

Solar Panels & Solar Radiations

The electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun is known as solar radiation or sunlight. Using a number of technologies, solar radiation may be absorbed and converted into useful forms of energy such as heat and electricity.

The technical viability and cost-effectiveness of these technologies at a given location are determined by the amount of solar energy available.

One of the technology is the photovoltaic (PV) system, in which solar panels are used to convert sunlight into electricity directly. 

In the upper atmosphere, the Earth receives 174 petawatts (PW) of incoming solar radiation.

The 70% is absorbed by clouds, oceans, and landmasses, with approximately 30% reflected back to space.

In the Solar panels that we use today, we actually use 70% of the energy that comes from the sun and use the workings of our panels to meet our energy needs.

The amount of solar radiation that reaches any given location on the Earth’s surface varies according to geographic location, season, time of day, local landscape, and local weather.

Effect of Altitude on Solar Radiations

The amount of air molecules, ozone, aerosols, and clouds above the relevant surface decreases with altitude in the atmosphere and solar UV radiation increases with altitude.

According to recent studies, harvesting solar power at high altitudes is more efficient than at sea level. This validates that at high altitudes, we get more direct irradiation and less diffused radiations.  

As a result, at higher altitudes, the availability of full solar radiation allows for the formation of a more efficient PV system than ground-mounted PV systems.

Solar Panel Efficiency and Altitude  

Solar panels do not perform consistently under all conditions, and certain factors can have an impact on efficiency. These factors are as follow.

Shade

Shade, which is a type of sun blockage, is a major impediment for solar panels. Shade is not always synonymous with cloudy skies but such days result in less productive electricity secretion from the panels as they do not completely shield them from sunlight.

Under hazy conditions, panels continue to receive sunlight and convert it, albeit at a reduced rate. Installation of solar panels at higher altitudes will decrease the shading effect resulting in more output power.

Weather

Weather conditions have a significant impact on solar panel performance. Snow and hail are bothersome elements that impede but do not completely halt the operation of solar panels.

Snow panels retain enough heat to melt the snow that has accumulated on top of them, whereas hail may break through the solar panel glass. Installation of solar panels at higher altitudes will counter the weather conditions resulting in increased efficiency.

Upkeep

Solar panels are not impervious to common clogs such as dust and dirt. These clogs prevent sunlight from reaching the solar cells, resulting in less sunlight exposure and lower efficiency.

They accumulate over time, and the more blockages there are, the less effective will be the solar panels. Installation of solar panels at higher altitudes will result in more sunlight exposure resulting in improved efficiency.

Installation of solar panels at higher altitudes minimizes these factors and efficiency is increased.

Therefore, installation at higher altitudes full solar radiation is available; a more efficient PV system can be formed than ground-mounted PV systems.

Performance of Solar Panels at Specific Altitude

We can explain the performance of solar panel at specific altitude as follow.

Output Voltage

The output DC voltage of the solar panel slightly increases at a specific altitude from the ground level.

The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in a slight increase in output voltage.

Output Current

The output DC current of the solar panels also slightly increases at a specific altitude from the ground level.

The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in a slight increase of output current as well.

Output Power

The output power of solar panels also increases at a specific altitude from the ground level due to an increase in output voltage and current because the output power is

Output Power = Output Voltage * Output Current

It is estimated that solar panel at a specific altitude above the ground has 7-12% more output power as compared to solar panels at ground level.

Efficiency

Solar panel at specific altitude has more efficiency as compared to the ground level. The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in more generation of electricity.

The efficiency of any solar power system is

Efficiency = Input Power/Output Power

As the output power at a specific altitude has been increased, resulting in higher efficiency for the same system.

Temperature

Solar panel at specific altitude has more temperature as compared to the ground level. The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in an increase in the temperature of the solar panel.

Humidity

Solar panel at specific altitude has less humidity as compared to the ground level.

The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in an increase in temperature of the solar panel and a decrease in humidity level because humidity changes when temperatures change.

If no moisture is added to the air, humidity decreases as the temperature rises.

Powerfulness

Solar panels at specific altitudes are more as compared to the ground level. The solar panel at a specific altitude has more solar radiation, resulting in increased power, and can provide to more people as compared to solar panels at ground level.

Maintenance Cost

Solar panels at specific altitudes have slightly increased maintenance costs as compared to the ground level because solar panels are directly affected by harsh weather conditions. 

Overall Cost

Solar panels at specific altitudes have more costly as compared to the ground level because extra apparatus is required to install to withstand the harsh weather conditions. 

Safety

Solar panels at ground level have more safety as compared to the specific altitude because there are placed on the ground. 

Reliability

Solar panels at specific heights have more reliability as compared to the ground level because solar radiations are available for much time as compared to the ground level and can provide better power output.  

So, we can summarize the above discussion as follow.

Sr. NoParameterSolar Panel at Higher AltitudeSolar Panel at Ground Level
1Output VoltageMoreLess
2Output CurrentMoreLess
3Output PowerMoreLess
4EfficiencyMoreLess
5TemperatureMoreLess
6HumidityLessMore
7PowerfulnessMoreLess
8Maintenance CostMoreLess
9Overall CostMoreLess
10SafetyLessMore
11ReliabilityMoreLess

Suitable Locations for the Installation of Solar Panels at Higher Altitude

The basic idea is to use a high altitude platform is to help photovoltaic (PV) modules significantly increase their output due to significantly increased solar radiation at higher altitudes.

Suitable locations for the installation of solar panels at higher altitude can be as follow.

At higher rooftops

If a Solar Panel is installed at an altitude of 27.432 meters/90 feet above ground level at the same time and intensity of sunlight, a 7-12% increase in power is observed.

It has been observed that at ground level, the gases and humidity factor as well as factors affecting the presence of population, which include the emission of different gases from the masses, the use of fossil fuels, and much more, are actually playing a role in stopping or limiting the number of proper intensities to reach the Solar Panel, thereby making the Solar Panel less effective.

But, installation of solar panels at specific heights will decrease the mentioned above factors and will increase the output power and efficiency.

Therefore, the installation of solar panels at higher rooftops is suitable, especially in urban areas.

At Mountainous Regions

As less solar radiation is absorbed by the thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes, solar panels at higher elevations can capture more of the sun’s energy. Mountaintop arrays may have additional advantages over urban installations.

Solar panels above the mountain peaks would help with winter power generation. Solar panels on mountain tops generate more electricity in the winter than those on lower-altitude building roofs.

Many countries could reduce their power deficit during the winter months by locating them on mountain tops.

Solar Balloons above Clouds

Floating solar balloons with the potential to generate three times the power per foot can be used above the clouds.

The balloon would collect solar energy and transmit it to a fuel cell, which would convert the current into hydrogen and keep the balloon afloat.

During the night, the cell would recover the hydrogen and convert it back into a charge, which it would then discharge to the ground.

Advantages of Installation of Solar Panel at Higher Altitude

Following are the advantages of the installation of solar panels at higher altitudes.

  • It increases the output power.
  • It increases the output voltage and current.
  • It gives better output in winter etc.
  • It increases the efficiency.

Disadvantages of Installation of Solar Panel at Higher Altitude

Following are the advantages of the installation of solar panels at higher altitudes.

  • It increases the overall cost.
  • Life of PV system is decreased.
  • It has slightly greater maintenance costs.

Conclusion

Solar panels at a higher altitude will receive more solar radiation as compared to the ground level, resulting in more generation of electricity.

The availability of these full solar radiations allows for the formation of a more efficient PV system than ground-mounted PV systems.

It can be identified as the most straightforward solution in order to use the fewest resources possible to achieve the greatest possible output.