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Solar Cell Efficiency Theoretically Doubled

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Solar cells are only capable of converting less than one-third of the solar energy they collect into electricity.

Now Sharp Electronics has come up with a prototype based on "exotic physics" that more than doubles that efficiency.

If such a device can be brought to market, solar power could become widely economical.

To accomplish this new efficiency, the Sharp researchers had to solve the problem of waste heat. When sunlight strikes conventional solar cells, it generates high-energy electrons, which lose most of their energy as waste heat within a few trillionths of a second.

Sharp constructed a device that isn't very practical because it's too thin to soak up much light and it works with only a single light wavelength. Still, it's the first device ever to corral these elusive electrons and increase the cell's voltage output. In theory, Sharp reports, efficiency could reach 60 percent, more than twice the efficiency of today's most efficient cells.

The technique used by the Sharp team is one of several that eventually could bring solar power generation fully into the mainstream by making it less expensive than using fossil fuels. That's because doubling a cell's efficiency would shrink the size of solar panels, making them far less expensive to install, a procedure that often is more expensive than the panels themselves.

Exotic physics, the key to the research, is all about fully understanding how certain materials behave and constructing them with pinpoint precision. The Sharp device relies on making extremely thin layers of a semiconductor made from gallium and arsenic. This creates a kind of shortcut for moving high-energy electrons.

Another, but very expensive, approach, according to the website Compound Semiconductor (CS), achieves high efficiency by assembling different kinds of solar cells in a stack array. Meanwhile, CS reports that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are studying the behavior of electrons in organic materials in their search for more affordable ultra-efficient solar cells.

All these approaches are still in their early phases. And James Dimmock, the senior researcher on the Sharp team, says that for now, at least, the company's new technique will be limited to increasing the efficiency of conventional solar panels, not to create new devices altogether.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (8)

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  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 12:24 PM, nomadd22 wrote:

    This is nonsense. Solar cells are already very efficient at the one wavelength they're made for. "Solar" means it works in sunlight, which is a whole bunch of wavelengths.

    And, you need to boost power. Voltage increase doesn't really mean anything.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 12:58 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    And as I always point out, efficiency is not as important as cost. Sunlight is free. So if you get 15% of free or 30% of free is not such a big deal.

    It does matter though if you have small area to use and you need to maximize it. Such as a commercial building.

    But if you put solar PV all over a residential roof, you'll generate more electricity than that house needs.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 1:44 PM, drdoom1951 wrote:

    nomadd22, you are so wrong, it isn't funny! There are three ways to "boost" power; increase voltage for the same current; increase current at the same voltage; or increase both. If the more efficient solar cell can generate more "current" at the same voltage as the less efficient cell, it will generate more "power", which is defined as voltage x current. If the more efficient solar cell can generate more "voltage" at the same current as the less efficient cell, it ail generate more power. If it can generate higher voltage AND higher current, it will generate more power. This is not nonsense! The article is correct! The more efficient you make the cell, the smaller the solar panels can be for the SAME power output. Go back to school and this time, pay attention in your Physics class!

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 2:07 PM, MEXPAL wrote:

    Its all about where you install the modules. If you have lots of space, you will save money purchasing some lower power modules, if space is tight, you can spend more on higher efficient modules such as SUNPOWER.

    The price difference is about 40%.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 3:44 PM, Hiranymus wrote:

    Solar energy is a very low intense energy source and

    is very material intense to harvest. Cost effectively it can be stored only in water. We therefore should concentrate more on heating and domestic hot water.

    The availability of solar energy has too many complex variables but today every one is an expert.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 5:51 PM, one4dwin wrote:

    Once these solar panels become a mainstream item. The electric company will find a way to make you pay more for having it. Because they cant lose money!

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 6:09 PM, mbee1 wrote:

    Solar cells are between 11 percent and 15 percent efficient. so the 1/3 claim is wrong on its face. Solar cells already only work on a very narrow bandwidth so any cell that works on an even narrower bandwidth will just wind up throwing away all the rest of the sunlight which is on many bandwidths. This whole piece seems more like an ad for Sharp rather that an announcement of something new

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 1:04 AM, PapaJoeProduce wrote:

    The problem here in Arizona is that the utility companies such as SRP and APS demand a grid maintenance fee of $1,600 for "your share" of grid maintenance costs when in reality you use far less electricity annually (under $1,000) so why the punishment when your excess gets sold by them for a profit that is strictly theirs.

    In fact they want to punish people for threatening their position of control over us.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 1:07 AM, PapaJoeProduce wrote:

    Basically, the Utility companies can see the writing on the wall! And they are fighting against change tooth and nail.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 1:11 AM, stockingshorts wrote:

    I live in the desert southwest. More and more homeowners are installing solar panels where ever they can on their roofs or on racks on their lawns. The utilities are getting rather nervous about it too. If I decide to join the crowd, I would demand U.S. made solar panels. The Chinese can go pound salt.I would not willingly buy Chinese crap. I don't care how many suck hole Americans think they're great.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 10:47 AM, MikeofPayson wrote:

    Maybe we can steal the technology from the Chinese.

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