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Aussies lowering the cost of solar

8th May 2013

Right here at home, Australians have developed a new way to bring the cost of solar panels down, to make them an even more attractive option for households and businesses.

A group of solar engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have come up with a way to improve the quality of low-grade silicon, which will improve its electric efficiency and therefore reduce the overall cost of solar panels.

"This process will allow lower-quality silicon to outperform solar cells made from better-quality materials," said Scientia professor Stuart Wenham from the School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW.

Silicon is the most expensive part of making solar cells, and the solar savvy UNSW team has found a way to control hydrogen atoms so that they can better correct deficiencies in the silicon.

The researchers have found a way to control the charge state of the hydrogen atoms they introduce into the silicon, so that it can best operate to improve the material.

At the moment, standard silicon cells have a maximum efficiency of around 19 per cent, but UNSW's new technique is forecast to produce efficiency levels of between 21 and 23 per cent - driving down the price of solar panels.

While the solar industry has long wanted to bring down the cost of silicon, this would have involved using lower quality materials, which would also mean lower efficiency.

However the method of introducing hydrogen atoms into silicon's atomic structure successfully means that defects in lower quality silicon can be corrected so that quality and efficiency aren't compromised.

"We have seen a 10,000 times improvement in the mobility of the hydrogen and we can control the hydrogen so it chemically bonds to things like defects and contaminants, making these inactive," said Mr Wenham.

At the moment, UNSW's team has eight industry partners interested in commercialising this technology, and is also working with manufacturing equipment companies to implement the capabilities.

The UNSW has been building up its record of solar success, holding the world record for silicon cell efficiency at 25 per cent - showing an outstanding commitment to developing and proliferating solar power technology.

The project is expected to be completed in 2016, with support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

ARENA is an independent Commonwealth authority which supports innovations that can improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies, and grow the supply of renewable energy in Australia.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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