Solar panels are now more efficient than ever

Posted 10th December 2014 by Stephanie Stefanovic

Australian scientists have reached a breakthrough in solar technology, converting more electricity from sunlight than ever before. Solar researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have set a new record in the efficiency of solar panels by using a method that can convert up to 46% of the sun's energy into electricity.

“This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity,” Professor Martin Green said. “We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry,” added Dr. Mark Keevers.

Traditional solar energy production uses a single solar cell, which limits the conversion of sunlight to approximately 33%. The new-found method distributes sunlight across four different cells, each of which is optimised for the amount of sunlight it receives, leading to higher efficiency levels. The four-way solar cells are used in conjunction with mirrors and filters, which are arranged to direct any excess energy towards a cell that has the capacity for it. Therefore, sunlight that is normally wasted can be utilised, leading to higher conversion rates.

This is the latest in a series of achievements by UNSW solar researchers over the past 40 years, including the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight into electricity with an efficiency rate of over 20%. This recent achievement doubles that.

Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), argued that this latest achievement demonstrates the value of investing in Australia's renewable energy research. The CEO also stated that this new development will increase the competitiveness of solar power, as “more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper”.

Source: Crozier, R 2014, 'UNSW Researchers Set World Record in Solar Energy Efficiency', UNSW, 8 December, p1, viewed 9 December 2014

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