Solar Cell Efficiency Theoretically Doubled

Solar cells are only capable of converting less than one-third of the solar energy they collect into electricity. But now Sharp Electronics has come up with a prototype based on “exotic physics” that more than doubles that efficiency.

Jun 25, 2014 at 10:04AM

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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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4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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