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Can Solar Panels Handle the Heat of a Warming World?

High temperatures and humidity make solar panels less efficient. What does that mean for solar power as the climate changes?
Sheep graze among solar panels in Germany.
Sheep graze among solar panels in Germany.Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Solar cells need sunlight to generate electricity, but with rays also comes heat. As the planet gets warmer, scientists are warning that temperatures could become too high for solar panels to perform efficiently.

Currently, solar photovoltaic technology makes up 55 percent of all renewable-power capacity, and it will continue to boom, according to a 2018 report on the state of renewable energy. It’s unlikely the planet will become too hot for solar panels to function altogether any time soon. But a recent paper out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did find that for every degree Celsius rise in temperature, the voltage output of solar modules declines by an average of 0.45 percent. Under one warming scenario projected by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which estimates global temperature to rise by 1.8 degree Celsius by 2100, that comes out to a 1 percent reduction.