Once primarily the key component for chipmakers, silicon has rapidly become a hot commodity in the burgeoning market for renewable energy with rising demand for solar panels prompting a drastic decline in its global supply. This had spurred a worldwide search for alternatives to the precious element as scientists and businessmen race to anticipate further growth in the solar market over the coming years. A team of researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion University, led by David Faiman, believe they may just have found a viable alternative in gallium arsenide.
Though more expensive than silicon, gallium arsenide is also more efficient when used in a reflective dish. "The dish could be put in a sunny backyard and generate most of the home's utility needs. The costs per watt are comparable to that of a conventional power plant, but without fuel," said Faiman, a professor of physics at the university. This follows an earlier recommendation by analysts at Jefferies, an investment bank, that concluded that while gallium arsenide was still too expensive to use, it could be coupled with mirrors to reduce costs. The reflector designed by Faiman and his colleagues would collect and intensify sunlight a thousand times over, they claim. The resulting concentrated light would be directed at solar panels — which would convert it into energy with twice the efficiency of conventional panels.
Faiman is working with a start-up company, Zenith Solar, to develop a home solar energy system that would use a 107.6 sq. ft. reflector dish. They plan on unveiling a prototype by the end of 2008. He estimates that a similar energy system built on 4.6 sq. mi. in Israel's Negev desert could generate as much as 1,000 MW of electricity, or close to 10% of the country's energy needs.
Others, however, are less sanguine about the potential for gallium arsenide to fill the vacuum in the solar market. George Crabtree, the director of materials science at the DOE's Argonne National Library, cautioned that the technology has yet to prove itself in areas like total cost competitiveness and system integration. "It is likely to take several more years before the other aspects of CSP (concentrated solar power) technology are sufficiently developed and proven ready for deployment. CSP technology is like digital audio ten years ago," he concluded. He argued that solar energy derived from silicon in the sunny regions of Italy and the U.S. would be able to compete on a cost- and efficiency-basis within 5 years.
Cheaper solar energy can't come fast enough as far as we're concerned.
Via ::Planet Ark: Reflective Mirrors Seen Raising Solar Potential (news website)