Photos: Ali Javey, UC Berkeley
Yet Another Promising New Kind of Solar PanelIt seems like lab breakthroughs are happening all the time when it comes to solar power. The latest one comes from the University of California, Berkeley, and involves putting small 'nanopillars' on aluminum foil with a new method that could be about 300% more efficient than previous methods (such as the nanowire solar cells) that used similar nanostructures. The panels could also be made flexible by embedding the cells in transparent polymer. Read on for more details.Technology Review writes:
The nanopillars allow the researchers to use cheaper, lower-quality materials than those used in conventional silicon and thin-film technologies. What's more, the technique used to make the cells could be adapted to make rolls of flexible panels on thin aluminum foil, cutting manufacturing costs [...] "But if you can do it, the cost could be 10 times less than what's used to make [crystalline] silicon panels."
The solar cells are made of uniform 500-nanometer-high pillars of cadmium sulfide embedded in a thin film of cadmium telluride. Both materials are semiconductors used in thin-film solar cells.
So far the nanopillar solar cells have been shown to have an efficiency of about 6%, but the researchers say that further improvements are possible. They are aiming for a doubling of the efficiency by using indium oxide, a transparent material, for the top surface, letting more light through.
Still Need to Get it Out of the Lab
Of course, that's only the first step in a long and arduous process; you still need to turn those lab technologies into commercial products at a price that people will pay for. Will this particular technology be the one that makes it? I don't know. But I'm very happy to see that there's lots of new ideas coming out of the field of solar power.
Kudos to all the scientists and engineers working on harnessing the clean power coming from the great big fusion reactor in the sky. We have more than enough sunlight to power everything we need, and with a decentralized network of solar panels on rooftops and many big solar thermal farms in deserts (with storage capacity so they can keep producing even at night), we could generate a big chunk of our power.
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