Solar panels will continue to get smaller as technology continues to improve. As manufacturing advances, engineers will be able to fit more solar cells into smaller areas. Some companies are focussing on maintaining current solar panel sizes while putting more solar cells on them to increase output.
After the discovery of the photovoltaic effect back in 1839, the very first solar cell was produced in 1883 by Charles Fritz. But it wasn’t until 1954 that Bell Labs announced the first practical silicon solar cell.
After being used in space projects, solar panels really hit the residential and commercial big time in 1982 when Kyocera Corp started to mass-produce polysilicon solar cells, and they’ve been gaining in popularity ever since.
How Has The Size Of Residential Solar Panels Changed Over The Years?
Solar panels really have come a long way from back in the day. The cells have got smaller and more powerful. This means you can now get more than double the amount of power in the same size as previous panels, which had only a small amount.
It’s not only been the size of panels that has shrunk, but also the price. For example, in the late 1990s, you would pay close to $20k for a 3kW system! In 2020 you could purchase a 5kW system with 3 x 2.4kW lithium batteries for $8k…and remember, in the 90’s average salaries were quite a bit less than they are now.
Late ’90’s panels were about $1200 each and they were only around 100 watts per panel and they were BIG! Solar batteries were big old-fashioned ones that you had to put water into compared to the zero maintenance ones you get these days.
And solar panels should continue to get cheaper, as I go into in this article:
Not only has the price of solar panels reduced significantly but the efficiency of the panels has massively increased, and the size of the actual solar cells has become way smaller and more efficient.
The average panel in 2021 is just over 200W per m². A friend of mine has solar panels that are 2m² and they offer 420W of power…a huge difference from the 0.1W per m² being boasted back in 1958! So there sure has been progress in this field and it’s not finished yet!
You can now get solar roof tiles and even solar windows that contain translucent cells so they look just like normal windows. I find this an incredible invention as all of our windows will be able to generate free electricity from the sun without the need for the rather ugly panels that are currently used.
Speaking of ugly solar panel, here are a few articles on how to hide them and changes being made to make them more aesthetically pleasing:
The other advantage of ground-mounted ones is that they are easily accessible to clean them. Solar panels need to be cleaned to keep them working at their full potential. So if you live in a particularly dry and dusty area, you will have to clean your panels regularly to get the most from them – a bit tricky when they are on the roof!
What Is The Smallest Residential Solar Panel Available Today?
Panels will indeed get smaller as even since I purchased my 72-cell panels in 2020, there are now 96-cell versions. So the cells are getting smaller and it is, therefore, possible to fit more of them onto the same size panel.
Solar panels are now used in so many applications from homes, RVs, and boats to mobile charging devices, radios and let’s not forget the good old humble calculator! You can get residential solar panels that measure just 67cm x 53cm but of course, you will only get around 60W from this size.
So it’s not just a matter of the smallest size residential panel as you have to remember the approximate calculation of 200W per m². Although a 60W panel is small, it would only power something like a couple of lightbulbs, a mobile phone charger, and a radio! So size really does matter on this one!
So the accurate answer to this question is that the smallest cell currently available allows for 96 of them to fit on 1m² of solar panel surface area.
Does A Solar Panel Lose Efficiency As It Gets Smaller?
Since it’s the solar cells that provide the efficiency for solar panels, the size of the panels themselves doesn’t have any bearing on efficiency. Most solar panels carry an efficiency rating of 15-20% no matter their size or how many solar cells they contain.
As discussed above, whether you have a small panel or large panel, they will only be able to fit a certain amount of cells within their overall size. So a 96-cell panel is going to provide more power than a 72-cell panel
Every panel will come with an efficiency rating which can be anywhere between 15-20%. Of course the higher the efficiency, the higher the price. You can now get high-efficiency panels over the 20% rating, but these will usually cost a bit more.
So you can see it isn’t the size of the panel that makes it efficient, it is how many cells it contains and the efficiency of those cells. So “no”, smaller panels are not less efficient than larger ones.
All solar panels will become less efficient over time but with most of them having 20-30 year lifespans, with minimal loss of efficiency, it still usually makes them a really viable option these days compared with 20-30 years of electric bills!
Does the Size Of A Solar Panel Matter?
Since larger solar panels can fit more solar cells across their surface, larger solar panels can usually produce more energy than smaller ones. If you are running high-energy appliances, like heaters or HVAC, you will want to use larger panels with higher wattage output.
Given the equation of 200W + per m², there would be absolutely no point in you buying 100W panels if you want to generate 3200W per hour. This would mean you would need 32 x 100W panels. It would make far more sense to buy 8 x 400W panels.
But whatever way you do it, you will still be getting approximately 200W per m². So it is far more sensible to focus on the number of cells and efficiency rating. Oh, and of course the manufacturer’s reputation.
Another consideration is where you will be putting the panels. If you were mounting them on your roof, then of course you need to make sure your roof is big enough to fit the amount and size of the panels.
You can of course have them mounted on a frame on the ground. This is a good option if your roof is too small or north-facing, or if planning laws do not allow for roof mounting. Ground mounting can have the added advantage of being put somewhere out of sight and not as obvious as say roof-mounted ones on a raised frame to get them to face the right direction.
So you can see that this has been a very progressive industry and continues to be. With technological advances such as we are witnessing in this century, we could well be living in a world where all windows generate electricity, sidewalks will have slabs that generate it, every mode of transportation will generate its own power via solar, and who knows, maybe we will even have tiny solar chips that provide us with added energy to allow us to achieve greater things than we already can!