Researchers are reporting big advances in efficiency of new solar panels. MIT and Masdar Institute announced they had created a new solar cell that was 35% efficient and less expensive than other high-efficiency cells. Also recently a a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) claimed it has beaten the MIT/Masdar achievement by creating a solar cell that is 36.4% efficient.
These numbers are about double that of the typical solar cell used in residential solar panels today.
The new solar cells are currently being tested in a lab environment. As we know, getting new technology out of the lab and into commercial production is a process fraught with pitfalls and setbacks, however there is optimism given the right
MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology solar panels
At MIT and Masdar may have found a way around the trade-off between efficiency and cost. Their new solar cell combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material to harvest a broader range of the sun’s energy. The researchers call the device a “step cell,” because the two layers are arranged in a stepwise fashion, with the lower layer jutting out beneath the upper layer, in order to expose both layers to incoming sunlight. Such layered, or “multijunction,” solar cells are typically expensive to manufacture, but the researchers also used a novel, low-cost manufacturing process for their step cell.
The Swiss EFPL insolight solar cells
These solar panels concentrate the solar energy by tracking the sun during the day. A new company called Insolight is planning to use the new cells to make high efficiency solar panels that can compete with existing residential solar arrays. The key to the Insolight cell is a thin, transparent plastic concentrator that goes over the cell and acts like a lens to focus solar energy onto the relatively tiny but super-high-performance solar cells.
BBC’s technology magazine programme covered the Swiss development here: Why this solar panel could be the next big energy player
Florian Gerlich, COO of Insolight said, “We’re using a lens which is basically a magnifying glass, but with a very particular shape so we can track the sun throughout the day with minimal displacements. We’re just moving laterally by a couple of millimetres each day so it’s a very small movement and consumes very little energy.”
It can use existing housing and independent lab test have measured efficiencies of 36.4%
Solar panel image: By Stefan Thiesen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons