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New solar cell efficiency record

Although I am a strong supporter of solar energy, I had not been following developments in that area so I was pleasantly surprised at this news report that a new solar cell had broken a new efficiency record with 44.7%. What this means is that 44.7% of the light from the sun, from ultraviolet through to the infrared part of the spectrum, is converted into electrical energy.

The new record is not that much greater than the old record of 44.4% but the surprise for me was that I had been under the impression that it was around 20%, so I was clearly out of touch.

Getting close to 50% for sunlight to electricity conversion is incredibly good. But the cost of solar energy is still higher than that for coal and oil. But if the cost of the cells can be brought down, then combined with the heightened efficiency, solar energy may finally become economically viable and commercially attractive.

Comments

  1. says

    But the cost of solar energy is still higher than that for coal and oil.

    Highly debatable, once the subsidies for the latter are taken into account. Completely untrue if the externalities associated with the latter are taken into account.

  2. intergalacticmedium says

    Numbers like this are very encouraging heralds of progress but represent very controlled and small scale laboratory conditions which usually involves a long lag time between discovery and application on macroscopic power generation. Good news though.

  3. Konradius says

    44.7% is really high, sounds very nice! However the real advances should be in bringing the costs down and using less exotic materials.
    If for the same cost of 1 m^3 of the 44.7 material you can make 4 m^3 of 20% material the latter is more efficient.
    It’s not that we have a lack of places where we can put solar panels…
    (note that I expect the 44.7% material brings in 2.24 times the energy of the 20% material which might be an oversimplification)

  4. Kevin Boyce says

    Actually this is a concentrator cell, so the cost of materials is much less important. It was running at 300x normal illumination in the reported test, which means you only need 1/300 as much material as for non-concentrator applications. So unless the material is absurdly expensive the cost will still be dominated by the optics and tracking system.

    And of course concentrator systems are only useful in areas where there is a lot of direct sun. You might get half of peak power out of a normal flat-panel system on a moderately overcast day, but your concentrator system basically gives you nothing. So it’s not useful for covering all the factory rooftops in New England, but it would be great in Phoenix.

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