Sydney researchers develop new type of solar panel13th Feb 2012
A new type of solar panel is currently being developed by researchers in Sydney, which has the potential to do more than simply generate electricity.
The team from the University of New South Wales believe their system could also warm air and water to further enhance the energy efficiency of solar projects.
They also anticipate that their system could be integrated into the structural fabric of the building, meaning they would actually form the roof, rather than be attached to it, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
This, however, can only be achieved if the solar panels are made especially durable.
Associate professor Alistair Sproul told the publication: "Australia has this perception that we are blessed with limitless energy, but by the time we have filtered it through the system and into buildings in the form of electricity, there is enormous waste."
Prototype solar panels created by the team successfully captured the heat that builds up behind the cells, before using it to warm up air or water.
Figures show that the air behind solar cells can be heated to around 25 degrees C, which at present is a wasted by-product.
The efficiency of existing solar panels is the source of much research, as scientists from the University of Cambridge have also recently embarked on a similar project.
They claim to have developed cells that improve maximum efficiency by 25 per cent by harnessing the sun's energy much more effectively than traditional models.
At present, around 34 per cent of sunlight is converted into electrical power, but the new systems would enable this figure to be increased to 44 per cent.
Leaders of the project professor Neil Greenham and professor Sir Richard Friend have developed a hybrid cell that is capable of absorbing red light and harnessing the extra energy of blue light.
In turn, this can help to boost the electrical current, therefore improving the cells' effectiveness.
Head of the research group in Sydney professor Deo Prasad pointed out that building performance now needs to be taken to the next level.
"In the past we have had separate experts working on solar panels, on energy efficiency, water efficiency, but what we are looking at now is total integration from the start," he commented.
The focus is now on producing high-tech and high-end solar panels, at a time when low-tech forms of photovoltaics are making it on to the market, the expert added.
Posted by Mike Peacock