New solar energy cells could light up the future

20th Apr 2012

We all know that solar cells are designed to generate solar electricity – but what if they could also emit light?

This might not have been something you've thought about in the past – and who could blame you – but a team from the University of California, Berkeley have done just that.

You may be asking what the point is…shouldn't solar power systems just do what they're supposed to?

Well the more applications a solar cell has, the more likely people are to snap it up and make renewable electricity the norm rather than the exception.

This is far from a new idea – scientists have been busying themselves with trying to find new ways to make solar power more appealing.

It was not so long ago that a team from the University of New South Wales tested a solar power system that can also heat air and water.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that that air trapped behind solar panels can be heated to approximately 25 degrees C, as at the moment it is simply going to waste.

This heat could also warm up water, which could have an endless amount of uses.

Meanwhile, experts from Flinders University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences recently created solar panels that can double up as windows – just imagine the possibilities!

Many solar cells are silicon-based, but the team instead decided to develop carbon nanotubes.

For the non-sciencey types out there, these are extremely thin structures around 10,000 times smaller than the human hair that are made of carbon atoms.

They are so tiny that the team believe they could be sprayed on to windows without blocking light, effectively turning structures into solar electricity generators.

Pretty cool, eh?

Going back to the US researchers, they believe that by improving the performance of the cells and finding creative ways to test them, products of the future will be even more energy efficient.

They argued that by creating cells that emit light, photons will not become lost in the structure and instead can increase the voltage produced by the cell.

"What we demonstrated is that the better a solar cell is at emitting photons, the higher its voltage and the greater the efficiency it can produce," suggested Eli Yablonovitch, principal researcher and UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering.

Keep your eye out for solar panels that generate heat, disguise themselves as windows and light up…the future of renewable energy may be brighter than we think.

Posted by Mike Peacock


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