Key takeaways


olar power is often seen as the hero of our eco-friendly future, with vast fields of solar panels shining under the sun, powering our homes with clean energy. Yet, there's a serious problem lurking that we need to face. If we don't pay attention, this could really dampen the bright outlook we have for solar.

In 2023, the world added 444 gigawatts of new solar energy capacity, as reported by the market analysts at BloombergNEF. That's a huge jump—76% more than the previous year! And it looks like solar energy is going to be a big player in the United States, taking up more than half of the energy additions expected in 2024. These figures are impressive, evidencing the industry’s vigorous health and the world’s commitment to cleaner energy.

But there's a catch. With fast growth comes some stumbling blocks, and solar energy has hit one. The problem is the underperformance of solar assets—a term that refers to the gap between how much energy we expect our solar panels to produce and the reality of their actual output. This underperformance has led to a considerable financial impact on the industry, with up to $4.6 billion potentially slipping through the cracks.

This figure comes from a detailed report by Raptor Maps, a company specializing in solar data analytics. Their work gives us a straightforward, though a bit alarming, view of how well solar panels are working and where they're falling short. Let’s dive into what they found and talk about some ways we can solve these issues.

Use your own personal savings calculation to shop and compare top providers

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Quantifying the Impact of Underperformance

The team has taken a close look at over 125 gigawatts of solar panels all over the world, creating a large pool of information to draw insights into global asset health. Just last year, they added data from an extra 37 gigawatts spread across 41 countries. This information is gathered through advanced technologies such as drones, robotics, application programming interfaces (APIs), and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, ensuring a clear and detailed picture of solar panel performance.

Here's what they found: the amount of energy that solar panels didn't produce due to equipment and health issues jumped from just over 3% in 2022 to nearly 4.5% in 2023. Now, these might just seem like small percentages, but they represent a big deal in money terms—an average of $4,696 lost for every megawatt of power these panels were supposed to generate but didn't. When you add that up across all the solar farms they studied, it means the industry could be losing a massive $4.6 billion every year.

Graph about Avg % powel loss vs. Avg per MW annual revenue loss
Source: Raptor Maps

Interestingly, the bigger the solar project, the bigger the problem. If they don't address the inefficiencies plaguing their high output solar panels, they could see their earnings—what investors call the "internal rate of return" or IRR—drop dramatically. In fact, the farms could witness a sharp downturn of 1.9% in the profits they projected to accumulate throughout the operational lifespan of their solar installations.

What's Causing the Trouble

  • System-Level Faults: When it comes to power loss, the main culprits are usually issues with the system's components. Think of a solar system as a finely tuned orchestra; when one instrument is off, it can throw off the entire performance. Inverters, strings of solar panels, and combiners are the most common instruments causing trouble, responsible for reductions of 1.91%, 0.90%, and 0.81% in power output, respectively. What's more, problems with solar trackers – the parts that keep panels facing the sun – are on the rise, nearly doubling from 2022 to 2023.
  • Module-Level Concerns: Faults in individual solar modules or smaller subsections don't usually cause immediate big power drops. These stayed pretty constant, with a slight decrease to 0.21% in losses. But don't let these small numbers fool you; they can lead to larger issues that affect more parts of the system over time.
  • Weather-Related Damage: The weather plays a big role too. As our climate changes, severe weather events like storms and floods are expected to become more frequent and intense. These events can damage solar modules, leading to losses. The median yearly power loss from such weather events sits around 1%, but severe conditions can knock out as much as 60% of a system's power.
Avg Power Loss Breakdown graph
Source: Raptor Maps

Performance Outcomes by Type of Solar Tech

When talking about the health of solar power systems, the type of solar panels used matters. There are three main kinds: monocrystalline options are recognized as the best efficiency solar panels due to their single-crystal structure; polycrystalline modules are produced by combining multiple crystal pieces; and thin-film panels are manufactured by layering photovoltaic materials onto a thin and often flexible surface.

In 2023, systems using thin film PV solar panels showed less energy loss—less than 4% on average—compared to high efficiency PV panels utilizing monocrystalline or polycrystalline designs. Despite having lower energy loss overall, thin-film modules were more prone to physical damage. They experienced twice as many instances of damage as polycrystalline panels and were damaged 3.5 times more often than monocrystalline ones.

Use your own personal savings calculation to shop and compare top providers

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

The age of the solar farm plays a role too. For example, polycrystalline panels, which averaged 3.2 years old in the 2023 report, showed more issues than the younger thin-film or monocrystalline panels, which were around 1.5 to 1.6 years old. This suggests that as solar panels age, they might be more likely to encounter problems.

Avg power Loss (%) by PV Tech Graph
Source: Raptor Maps

Solar Underperformance Across the U.S.

The East Coast of the U.S. faces the steepest losses due to underachievement in performance. The Northeast is particularly hard-hit, facing costs of approximately $6,108 per megawatt of direct current (MWdc), while the Southeast isn't far behind with costs around $5,784 per MWdc. These figures suggest that the region you're in can significantly influence the financial consequences of underperformance.

In areas like the Midwest and the Plains, where hail storms are more common, solar installations tend to suffer more physical damage, leading to higher power losses compared to other regions. The Southeast, known for its storms, also experiences its fair share of power losses.

Avg. % / MW annual losss by US Region Graph
Source: Raptor Maps

Zooming out to consider the entire United States, we find that the average rate at which solar equipment falls short of expectations surpasses the global norm. This trend is particularly pronounced in states that are both home to some of the country's largest solar farms and hubs of rapid solar growth. Texas, California, and Florida are notable examples, all of which report higher-than-average rates of underperformance.

Avg. % Power Loss by U.S. State
Source: SEIA

Strategies to Enhance Solar Asset Performance

Thankfully, the report does not leave us in the dark. It sheds light on solutions to ensure that the health of American solar assets keeps pace with their expanding numbers. Let's talk about how the solar industry can brighten its future by tackling the shadow of asset underperformance.

1. Using Smart Drones

Think of "drone-in-a-box" as a friendly robot that flies over solar fields, checking that everything's working fine. These aerial assistants do more than take pictures—they gather essential data that keeps solar farms at peak performance. They can swiftly identify issues, from misaligned panels to potential erosion, without a human having to step foot on the field. Not only do they work fast, but they also keep workers safe and cut down the hefty costs tied to traditional inspections.

2. Quick Checks with AI for Businesses

When it comes to commercial and industrial solar setups, using AI to check on things can really speed up the process. Technicians on the ground get the information they need quickly, so they can fix problems right away. This isn't just about fixing things faster; it's about preventing bigger issues down the line, like potential fires or full system shutdowns.

3. Keeping an Eye on the Health of Solar Fields

It's super important to keep checking how the solar field is doing, especially if there's been a bad storm or something. This helps to fix any damage quickly and to understand if there might be problems later on. By staying on top of the health of solar assets, operators can navigate insurance processes smarter and keep their farms running strong, no matter what Mother Nature throws their way.

4. Building Solar Fields the Right Way

The foundation of a solar farm's success lies in its installation. Quality and precision here are crucial to prevent future performance issues. From the get-go, it's important to document every step and adhere to high standards, ensuring that every piece of the solar puzzle fits perfectly. In places where the weather can be tough on solar panels, like the vast landscapes of Texas, this attention to detail during installation can make all the difference.

5. Training and Setting Standards

The solar industry is attracting a wave of new talent, each bringing unique skills and perspectives. To channel this diversity into a strength, it's crucial to establish standardized training programs and best practices. A well-trained workforce is the backbone of the industry, equipped not just to install and maintain solar panels but also to meet the unique demands of renewable energy head-on.

Use your own personal savings calculation to shop and compare top providers

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Still looking for solar cost updates? Watch this video to know more

It's Time to Act

The report from Raptor Maps is a crucial alert for the solar energy sector. As the industry enjoys growth and technological advances, there's a looming issue of solar systems not performing as well as they should. To tackle this, we need to make the most of the information we have, use the latest technology, and work together to create and follow common rules and methods.

The stakes are high, and we need to start making changes now. As solar energy becomes a linchpin in the worldwide shift to renewable sources, maintaining the financial and practical well-being of our solar installations goes beyond mere profitability. It's a vital step toward a lasting, renewable energy era.


Key takeaways

  1. Quantifying Losses: Underperformance leads to $4.6 billion in annual losses. Raptor Maps' analysis shows energy loss rising from 3% in 2022 to 4.5% in 2023, translating to an average loss of $4,696 per megawatt.
  2. Identifying Factors: System faults, module issues, and weather damage contribute to underperformance. Thin-film panels show lower energy loss but higher susceptibility to damage.
  3. Strategies for Improvement: Utilize smart drones for efficient inspection, employ AI for quick checks, ensure continuous monitoring, and adhere to precision installation practices.
  4. Call to Action: Urgent measures are needed to mitigate losses. By leveraging technology and industry collaboration, we can optimize solar performance and advance renewable energy goals.
Apr 3, 2024

More from 



View All

Get Accurate & Competitive Quotes in Minutes

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.