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Breakthroughs in solar power technology
By Jerry Brownstein
Making solar energy more efficient is one of the most important ways to achieve more sustainable clean electricity. Many scientists are working on this problem, and two recent discoveries look very promising. These breakthroughs would be the first major expansions in solar power generation since the technology emerged in the 1950s, and they could play a major role in helping to tackle the climate crisis by increasing clean energy. Oxford PV in the UK claims that its next-generation solar panels will be able to generate almost a third more electricity than traditional silicon-based panels. Their secret lies in coating the panels with a thin layer of a crystal material called perovskite.
Coating a traditional solar power cell this way increases its power generation, because the crystal is able to absorb many more parts of the solar spectrum than traditional silicon. Typically a silicon solar cell is able to convert up to about 22% of the available solar energy into electricity, but the Oxford PV’s perovskite-on-silicon solar cell converts over 28% (30% more). According to Dr Chris Case of Oxford PV, “Using perovskite represents a true change for solar technology. Silicon has reached its efficiency limit, but adding perovskite is something totally innovative.” These solar panels will have a black-tinted look to blend in better with rooftop slates. They plan to begin sales to the public sometime in 2021.
Researchers at the Technicon Institute in Israel have made what may be an even greater breakthrough in solar cell technology that could boost efficiency of existing panels by up to 70%. Using new thermodynamic tools they can increase a solar cell’s efficiency by capturing much of the energy that is currently lost. They created a photoluminescence material that absorbs radiation from the sun. This illuminates the photovoltaic cell which increases a traditional solar panel’s efficiency rate from 22% to over 50%. The team continues to work on their innovation, and is targeting a commercial product release within the next few years.