Are Thermoelectric Generators Better Than Solar Panels As Energy Sources? (Solved!)

Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) have grown in popularity as alternative energy sources! Easy-to-maintain and convenient for indoor and outdoor use, they are excellent clean energy sources for basic lighting, heating, and powering devices.

In this article, we’ll explore how TEGs compare to the de facto source of sustainable clean, renewable energy, that is, solar panels.

Here are some of the key points that I’ll cover:

  • Potential for mechanical damage
  • Scaling for home use
  • Long-term cost-efficiency
  • Maintenance of TEGs
  • Carbon footprint comparison

Matching solar panels on multiple strengths, TEGs have a promising future as alternative sources of energy.

Thermoelectric generator connected to a control panel

What Mechanism do TEGs and Solar Panels Use?

TEGs use heat, while solar panels rely on radiation to produce electricity.

TEGs convert heat into electricity directly following the Seebeck effect. Every TEG has an open circuit with two different conductors. The two elements produce electricity due to temperature differences via electromotive force.

When electricity is generated, it may have a positive or negative polarity depending on the temperature difference between the two conductors. You can switch the resulting polarity by swapping the cold end with the hot one.

On the other hand, a solar panel is made of a sensitive material consisting of photovoltaic cells. Solar radiation gets converted into electrical changes causing a change in the electrical field of the cell.

The differences in the potential difference across the cell cause the resultant current to flow as electricity. The current is redirected into a battery for storage but can be used to power devices directly.

How Delicate Are TEGs Compared to Solar Panels?

TEGs are just as resilient to physical damage as solar panels.

The thermopiles found in TEGs have a stable operation which means that you don’t have to worry about surges causing short circuits that could damage your gadgets. The voltage supplied to the load remains stable over time.

Conversely, solar panels produce variable amounts of current depending on the intensity of the sun. However, you’ll likely be using a battery to store the energy, that is, a stable power source for daily operations.

How Much Can You Scale TEGs to Power Your Home?

You’ll have to make heavy investments into TEG to power your entire house.

A typical TEG produces between 4.5w and 12w, enough for a table lamp, charging devices, or running a mobile boiler. The commonest application of a TEG is home lighting since it supplies a stable source of current.

By comparison, you can lump together several high-quality solar panels, letting you harvest hundreds of megawatts during the summer. This means that you can power your entire home using solar.

Doing so on TEG is impractical as the scaling would be too expensive.

Are TEGs as Cost-Efficient as Solar Panels?

Both solar panels and TEGs are cost-efficient as alternative sources of energy.

Installing solar panels in your home isn’t cheap, especially if you plan on ditching the grid completely. However, once you overcome this initial hurdle, the payoff is astronomical, as you’ll never have to worry about blackouts again.

Your monthly bills will go from hundreds of dollars monthly to zero. Investing in modern batteries and installing a high-quality panel that doesn’t need regular maintenance and is key to saving energy costs in the long run.

The key difference between the savings you’ll make with TEG versus a solar panel will be seen in the scaling. 

While TEGs don’t require any maintenance, you’ll have to invest in several costly units just to light up the house.

The costs may make it impossible to get off the mains completely.

Which is Easier to Maintain Between TEG and Solar Panels?

Like solar panels, TEGs are low-maintenance installations, with a slight caveat. Both TEGs and solar panels have no moving parts, which means you won’t risk mechanical damage with either.

The entire operation of TEG is calm and silent, making it excellent for use in environments meant to be quiet such as libraries, classes, and hospitals. 

TEG power has no shelf-life restrictions, meaning that you don’t need to maintain the setup throughout the service making it highly reliable.

Similarly, photovoltaic systems require low maintenance to keep running efficiently. Once you install the solar panels and get some high-quality batteries, you’re set for a few decades. 

The only thing you might want to do is wipe the panels every few months as part of the general roof maintenance course.

Running a wet cloth over the surface will remove any dirt and debris deposited by wind. You don’t have to worry about water damage or short-circuiting as solar panels are built to withstand storms for years.

Whenever you’re heating a TEG, you’ve got to make sure that the temperature distribution is even. If not, most of the heat will be lost to the surroundings making the generator inefficient.

Solar panels are built to withstand seasonal changes, including hot summers, hail, snow, and severe blizzards. While high-end TEGs can withstand similar conditions, they’ll still run into thermal issues if the external conditions aren’t ideal. 

For example, operating a TEG installation in very cold weather will lead to thermal inefficiencies due to heat loss.

When is TEG Considered Renewable as Solar Energy?

TEG is considered to be a renewable energy source when heated through solar.

One of the main advantages of a solar panel for electricity generation is renewability. The sun will likely be shining billions of years from now. This means that solar energy is probably the future energy source for civilization.

TEGs can be considered renewable sources of energy as long as the heat source is the sun. When using passive heating such as steam or electric boilers, you risk polluting the environment since most of the energy supplied through the mains is sourced from burnt coal or natural gas.

How Does Solar Energy Compare to Thermoelectric Generation in Carbon Footprint?

Solar energy is cleaner than TEG in terms of carbon footprint. The only emissions that a solar panel produces are at the factory during the manufacture of the equipment.

With companies building panels that last for decades, it’s clear that this is the future of clean energy.

TEG doesn’t necessarily involve burning fossils to produce the heat needed to create electricity. However, passive heating remains the primary way for you to operate a TEG.

In most cases, this requires burning a high carbon material to maximize the heat output. Solar energy is more environmentally-friendly compared to TEG as a source of electricity.

 

Sources:

General Solar Panel FAQ

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