New solar cells could increase efficiency by 25%

9th Feb 2012

Solar panels of the future could be more efficient at harnessing sunlight, as researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a new type of solar cell.

Experts from the Cavendish Laboratory at the Department of Physics believe that the cell is more effective than traditional designs in that it creates more useful energy.

At the moment, solar panels are only capable of capturing part of the light from the sun, with the majority of it lost as heat.

Traditional solar cells are therefore incapable of converting in excess of 34 per cent of the available sunlight into electrical power, the research published in the journal NanoLetters shows.

However, by using a hybrid cell that absorbs red light and harnesses the energy of blue light to improve the electrical current, this problem can at least in part be overcome.

Study lead author Bruno Ehrler commented: "Organic and hybrid solar cells have an advantage over current silicon-based technology because they can be produced in large quantities at low cost by roll-to-roll printing."

Nonetheless, much of the costs associated with solar power plants are a result of the land, labour and installation of hardware.

In light of this, Mr Ehrler explained that if organic solar panels turn out to be less expensive, then their efficiency needs to be improved in order to make them competitive.

"Otherwise, it'd be like buying a cheap painting, only to find out you need an expensive frame," he added.

By adding pentacene to solar panels, the researchers discovered that the cells are capable of generating two electrons for every photon in the blue light spectrum.

This could potentially enable the solar cells to capture 44 per cent of the incoming energy.

Mark Wilson, who was also involved in compiling the report, said that it is important to move towards more sustainable sources of energy and explore any potential options for the future.

In recent days, the Grattan Institute released a report suggesting that the cost of solar technology needs to be reduced, which in turn will help Australia meet its carbon emission targets.

Furthermore, this is essential for the security of the country's electricity supply, as well as ensuring low-emission technologies remain competitively priced.

The report identified wind, solar power, concentrating solar thermal, geothermal, carbon capture and storage, bioenergy and nuclear power as the technologies capable of delivering close to zero-emissions.

Posted by Mike Peacock


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