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The atmosphere is thinner at higher altitudes, so do solar panels get more energy from the sun?

Does the cold help or hinder their performance?

Is a solar panel in space with no atmosphere is the most efficient?

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Yes but it is a very small effect (<1%), more important is if the panel is motorized to track the sun during the day. Cold air is thicker but a cold panel is actually more efficient, this is a bigger effect ( ~10 to 20%). Lots of info on google.

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As pointed out in the first answer, yes a slight increase in efficiency at higher altitudes, and the efficiency of the cell degrades if the cell heats up.

The third question about solar cells being more efficient in space:

  1. In space without the atmosphere the amount of solar energy available is closer to 1.3 kW per meter squared compared to 1 kW per meter squared at sea level. So for the same cell you have more power produced even if the efficiency is the same due to more light energy.

  2. Solar cells used on satellites are typically more sophisticated than a solar cell used on earth, using GaAS or cascaded solar cells instead of just silicon. Their efficiency are much higher, NASA and others also worry about reliability and other considerations rather than just efficiency and cost.

  3. A lot of engineering goes into thermal management of satellites, since the heat absorbed needs to be radiated away and as you go from light to dark thermal expansions and contractions from the changes in temperature can cause vibrations or other issues.

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