A team of researchers in Australia has broken the efficiency record for a commercially available photovoltaic system, creating one that converts more than 40% of collected sunlight into power.
“A new world record is making the future of solar energy look pretty bright,” Elizabeth Palermo wrote for Fox News Dec. 16.
The team was led by Martin Green, a professor at the University of New South Wales. In order to reach 40% efficiency, the team combined commercial solar cells with optical filters. This allowed them to capture wavelengths of light that average photovoltaic cells can’t. The approach is known as concentrator photovoltaics, or CPV, and is associated with advanced applications in the solar industry.
CPV systems are also typically very expensive to produce. But the team’s use of commercial materials, rather than lab-produced specialty cells, kept the costs of the project comparatively low.
The system first reached the 40% efficiency mark in tests in Sydney, and the results were repeated at a test facility in Golden, Colorado, where the National Renewable Energy Laboratory operates.
The UNSW researchers gave a paper on their highly efficient system at an Australian Photovoltaic Institute conference, and the full report will be published in Progress in Photovoltaics.
Continuing Solar Innovation
The Australian team isn’t the only one working on novel approaches to solar energy. Some researchers are even thinking as far out of the box as space.
“In space there’s no atmosphere, it’s never cloudy, and in geosynchronous orbits it’s never night: a perfect place for a solar power station to harvest uninterrupted power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Peter Shadbolt wrote for CNN Dec. 18.
The United States, as well as China, India and Japan, all have programs exploring the possibility of collecting solar energy from space.
Dr. Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, says the idea is scientifically sound, but consumers shouldn’t expect their power to be delivered from space in the next decade. There are both cost and public relations barriers to such attempts. However, he said, it will be interesting to see in what direction space-based solar energy develops. “It’s hard to tell if it’s nuts until you’ve actually tried,” he told CNN.
“One of the benefits from all the investments that are being made in solar energy is that we are learning more and developing more efficient technology,” says Jay Thorne, Spokesman, Strategic Solar Energy. “Our PowerParasol product is based on redefining the way we look at our outdoor environment and changing the way solar is used. What these researchers have done stretches the solar footprint in another way, by maximizing output. Each of us, working at what we do best, is changing the face of solar energy and that’s not just good for PowerParasol products, it’s good for the entire industry and the consumer.”