Solar energy continues to be utilized by homeowners to decrease their energy bills in regions of the U.S. with lots of sunlight. The two main types of solar power – photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) – generated 88 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2020. Solar panels have become commonplace on rooftops, while CSP installations in places like Arizona and Southern California produce up to 1,815 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Increasing solar panel efficiency, as well as the amount of sunlight that a solar panel is capable of absorbing, are two key goals to increase solar power viability for utility and commercial scale energy.

Several additional products can work alongside solar panels to capture the sun’s heat energy. Solar paint, which can be applied to multiple types of surfaces, contains millions of light-sensitive materials that can absorb sunlight and turn it into electricity. Different types of solar paint can produce electricity, create hydrogen through the process of sunlight absorption, and have the potential to be 11 percent more efficient than traditional solar panels. Similar mixtures like perovskite solar cells can be sprayed onto surfaces instead of being installed in a traditional solar panel. By expanding the surface area that solar cells can be installed on, more sunlight can be captured by these solar panels, generating more energy for affected structures or feeding the energy onto the grid.

In a similar vein, solar panels that are double-sided or positioned in a way to absorb reflected light also can capture more energy and be much more efficient. Maximizing the amount of time that solar panels spend in direct sunlight will also lead to higher efficiencies and more sunlight collected overall. Solar trackers can be programmed to allow solar panels to angle themselves towards the sun throughout the day, minimizing shade and increasing each solar panel’s efficiency. However, it is currently more economical to just install more solar panels as tracking systems can be priced anywhere from $500-$1,000 per panel.

Finally, an often-overlooked part of maintaining solar panel efficiency is keeping the panels clean. Dryer climates and areas that lack significant rainfall will translate to dust accumulating on top of solar panels. Dust accumulation on solar panels has been found to decrease energy efficiency by 7 percent in the U.S. annually. Dust can go through a process called cementation, where minerals on the panel become stuck to the panel’s surface due to the solar panel heating up during the day and cooling down during the night.

Solar energy still has some hurdles to overcome in order to become a viable source of energy nationwide. By inventing new ways to expand the surface area that can be used for solar energy production, more power can be generated without having to build new solar farms or demolish structures. Innovations in solar panel application with paints and strategies to maintain efficiency will translate into increased viability for solar panels in a wider range of areas in the U.S.


Written by Roy Mathews, Former Public Policy Associate


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.