500-watt solar panels with cityscape in the background.

Summary

  • 500-watt solar panels are one of the most innovative developments in the solar industry in recent years – the level of output these new solar panels can produce was unheard of 10 or even five years ago.
  • The high wattage solar panels were designed to meet the rising output demands of medium and large-scale solar systems while using as few panels as possible. As a result, only a few modules are required, meaning a massive reduction in handling costs, and the overall balance-of-system costs go down.
  • Due to the amount of work involved in purchasing new equipment and the fact that solar projects often can’t be reprogrammed, the timeframe for the industry to upgrade to the new 500-watt panels is around five years.
  • As 500-watt panels become commercially available, the residential solar market is unlikely to be impacted directly. The 72-cell modules are considered too large to be practical solar solutions for home installation.

Introduction

The solar industry aims to make solar equipment more efficient and resilient while keeping it as affordable as possible. However, solar technology is advancing so fast that it’s easy to miss the occasional new development. One such technology announcement which should not pass you by is the 500-watt panel.

Solar module manufacturers are gradually unveiling first-of-their kind 500 watts, 50-cell, photovoltaic (PV) modules. The first two modules were revealed by Chinese solar panel manufacturers – Risen Energy and Trina Solar. Risen Energy’s modules are 50 half-cut monocrystalline PERC cells, with each cell being 210 mm in size. Trina Solar uses the same 210 mm silicon wafers but with tri-cut monocrystalline PERC cells. 500-watt modules are just slightly larger than 72-cell designs with 156.75 mm wafers.

500-watt solar panels are one of the most innovative developments in the solar industry in recent years. This article explains how 500W solar panels could have a significant effect on the solar energy sector. However, before diving into 500W solar modules, let’s look at how the technology has changed over the past few years.

How Solar Panels Have Changed Over Time

Since 1954, solar PV technology has evolved rapidly, and solar power has become one of the top players in the renewable energy market.

The first solar cell is believed to have been invented in the 1800s and was less than 1% efficient. It was not until Bell Labs invented the first useful silicon solar panel in 1954 that efficiency started to improve, and even at this point, it was around 6%.

Since 1954 solar PV technology has evolved rapidly, and solar power has become one of the top players in the renewable energy market. Solar manufacturers have been able to create solar panel prototypes that are over 30% efficient. It is now commonplace for high-efficiency solar panels to have a 20% to 22% efficiency rating. These high-efficiency panels can produce 25% more electricity than the panels that made up most of the solar market in previous years.

The solar industry today looks very different from that of a decade ago. This is not just due to improved efficiency rating – solar panel manufacturers have significantly reduced the cost of manufacturing processes.

Swanson’s law can explain the shift in solar panel cost over time. It states that the price of solar PV modules decreases by around 20% for every doubling in global solar capacity. The law highlights a phenomenon seen across many different technologies – especially new industries with a huge learning curve and manage to improve, resulting in prices falling.

With Swanson’s law in mind, solar panel manufacturers can be compared to computer manufacturers in that a decade ago; laptops were much more expensive and less powerful than today’s technology. If solar PV technology follows the same trend, it is easy to envision a future with solar panels on every rooftop. Even now, solar technology exists to improve solar panel efficiency further and at a reduced cost. In the next section, we will look at the new generation of 500W solar panels.

What Are the Advantages of a Higher Watt Solar Panel?

With most solar power projects, the main goal is to generate as much electricity as possible while taking up as little space as possible.

Higher wattage solar panels have the potential to open up more opportunities for renewable energy projects – especially in places with space constraints. With most solar power projects, the main goal is to generate as much electricity as possible while taking up as little space as possible. This is one of the main reasons high-efficiency solar panels have been thriving in the residential and urban market, where ideal roof space is often limited.

Traditional commercial solar panels are around 17% to 19% efficient on average. High-efficiency modules are at least 19% efficient, and some solar manufacturers are pushing their high-efficiency modules to 22% and higher. The main advantage of high-efficiency modules is higher and more reliable energy yield. Efficient cells generate more power over a longer period, and the advanced production methods used to make them mean the panels are very dependable.

Panels with increased power and efficiency ratings also come at a higher upfront price point, but they can save you money over time. High efficiency and power-producing modules, such as the new 500-watt panels, produce more power per square metre. They also reduce installation costs as there are fewer balance-of-system components.

System costs are conditional on the power density of the solar panels. Other costs which affect the system, such as inverters, land, and labour, are not going down over time. Therefore the most significant way to reduce the cost of solar power is to increase the panels’ efficiency.

There are many ways that solar panel manufacturers are increasing efficiency. For example, some choose not to use busbars or ribbon interconnections and place their cells closer together, reducing the inactive space between the cells. By doing this, the solar panels produce more power and make more efficient use of space.

Other manufacturers have adopted back-contact technology, which has all electrical contacts on the back of the cell and leaves maximum space on the front of the panel to capture energy. Another practice is to use 5-inch solar cells instead of the standard 6-inch cells. This results in 96 cells in the same footprint as a standard 60-cell module. Smaller cells are also more reliable, and there are fewer chances for microcracks and decreased output over time.

How 500W Solar Panels Could Change the Solar Industry

If fewer solar panels are needed to reach the capacity specifications for the project, it means overall project costs will drop as these 500-watt modules become economically viable.

Infographic of small solar panels being replaced with one large panel.
The 500-watt solar panel is considered one of the most innovative developments in the solar industry. Solar panels in the past have been much smaller than 500 watts, so these new powerful units are a significant technological improvement. In addition, the level of output a 500-watt solar panel can produce was unheard of 10 or even five years ago.

High wattage solar panels were designed to meet the rising output demands of medium and large-scale solar systems while using as few panels as possible. This results in boosting efficiency and lowering costs. For more demanding purposes with a lot of space, such as commercial and utility-scale, the new 500-watt panels are advantageous. Because it is now possible to use a few modules, there will be a massive reduction in handling costs, and the overall balance-of-system costs will decrease.

If fewer solar panels are needed to reach the capacity specifications for the project, it means overall project costs will drop as these 500-watt modules become economically viable. In addition, the application of 500-watt solar panels will save money by driving down the cost of racks and trackers per watt and reducing the cost per watt of installation labour.

The average module currently installed is 380W. This means that the 500-watt panels deliver around 31% more power than the average installed panel. Only ten years ago, the average solar module output was about 250W. As positive as the boost in energy production is, these new 500-watt panels have a long way to go until they are industry standard – let alone the benchmark for standard installation.

The timeframe is around five years for the industry to upgrade all of its assembly equipment. It takes a lot of planning and work to purchase new equipment because solar projects can often not be reprogrammed. With the five-year lag, the high-watt solar panels will likely be adopted by the commercial and industrial sectors and installed on rooftops.

The 500-watt solar panels will not significantly affect the whole industry. As the panels become commercially available, the residential solar market is unlikely to be impacted directly. The 72-cell modules are considered too large to be practical solar solutions for home installation. The roof space is often limited, workspaces are angled, and the installers have to carry the modules individually up ladders safely. Solar panels beyond the standard 1-meter by 1.6-meter 60-cell module are almost always too cumbersome for the typical home installation.

In the future, the technologies used to create these 500W modules will eventually trickle down to the domestic 60-cell panels. This would mean residential installations would take up less roof area while generating more power – ultimately driving down balance-of-system costs.

Closing Thoughts

High-efficiency modules and 500-watt panels are fantastic but not yet used across the board. Larger projects are often not making the most of these new technologies as stakeholders are currently more concerned with the project’s costs. Further, if there is plenty of space available, there may be no need to invest in high-efficiency modules.

When space is of concern, 500-watt panels with high efficiency are a fantastic option. However, it could be that there is not much land available or the chosen site has shading, or other obstacles inhibit a consistent stream of sunlight. This results in solar energy production needing to be maximized in the few spots where panels can be successfully mounted.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a PERC cell?

PERC is short for “passivated emitter and rear contact” (otherwise known as a rear cell). Solar panels made with PERC cells have an extra layer behind their traditional solar cells. The additional layer allows more sunlight to be captured and turned into electricity – making PERC cells more efficient than conventional cells.

 

How much power does a 500-watt solar panel produce?

When a 500-watt panel receives 8 hours of sunlight, it will produce around 4 kilowatt-hours per day. If this number is multiplied by 365 days per year, there is a solar output of approximately 1460 kilowatt-hours annually.

 

What can a 500W solar panel run?

500-watt solar panel systems tend to have an inverter that is at least 400 watts or larger. This is enough power to charge essential appliances and electronics such as lights, laptops, and a standard fridge.

 

Are higher wattage solar panels better?

There will be slightly more watts per m² because there are more solar cells and less aluminum framing. Fewer panels result in less racking, framing and fasteners, so less energy is embodied in the solar system.

 

What is the smallest size of solar panels?

The smallest solar panels range from 0.6 x 2.55 inches to 8.85 x 5.12 inches and generate between 0.06 and 4 watts of electric power. They are called “mini solar panels” and are tiny panels compared to their larger counterparts. Therefore, they are suitable for small applications with limited space – such as a solar calculator and garden solar lights.

 

Westbridge Energy Corporation

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