Less than 2% of the world’s electricity has come from solar power, but new inventions are likely to change that.
You might think that vast, arid deserts are the perfect place to install solar farms. After all, desert sunlight is intense and you rarely have to worry about clouds. Plus, there is plenty of wide-open space. But there is one problem – solar panels don’t do well with heat. Solar panels work most efficiently at temperatures below 25°C. This is because when solar panels get hot, the electrons pick up that extra energy from their environment, which puts them in a more excited state. And when they are already excited, they have less room to absorb energy from the sun. They work best in moderate climates where, unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard to find the space to set up a giant field of solar panels.
But since the 2000s, countries around the world have been implementing what seems to be a win-win solution. A system called agrivoltaics. In agrivoltaics, solar panels get installed over crop fields. That way there is no need to clear extra space just for the panels. On top of that, the crops help keep things cool as they release water through their leaves. The release of water works just like sweating – evaporating water removes heat from a plant, which brings down the plant’s temperature and also cools the surrounding area. So they keep an optimal environment for panels to work noticeably more efficient.