Solar energy has emerged as one of the most viable forms of renewable energy. But to make it even more prevalent and a standard part of power grids, solar-energy harvesting technologies need to perform at a higher level, achieving more efficiency, or a higher ratio of electrical output to the incident energy in the form of sunlight. Manufacturing the cells also must become more cost-effective and less labor-intensive to further promote their widespread use.
Click on the image below to check out some of the latest ways researchers are working to improve the performance and manufacturing of solar cells.
A group of German and French scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti, and the Helmholtz Center Berlin recently set a new world record in efficiency of 44.7 percent in a solar cell. They achieved this percentage with a four-junction solar cell that took them three years to develop. The solar cell is comprised of four solar subcells based on III-V compound semiconductors for use in concentrator photovoltaics. (Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE)
"You and I are saying the exact same thing, except I am proposing that the government help make the technology popular. You are waiting for "someone else" to make it popular first. "
Al Klu, would you think government will invest for it, I won't think because it requires huge investment. I feel the best way is government or local states can offer subsidies for citizens, who are opting for outright purchase of solar PV cells and other components.
The chicken and egg thing again. You and I are saying the exact same thing, except I am proposing that the government help make the technology popular. You are waiting for "someone else" to make it popular first.
If the government is procuring solar panels, and putting them on roofs of local government buildings (schools, town halls, courthouses, military complexes), the image of solar panels in use becomes widespread and therefore more popular. As the general public sees this technology as common, and hopefully effective, they are more likely to participate by buying into solar.
If you see solar panels everywhere, wouldn't you be more likely to buy some for your own home? As more people buy solar, there is more money going into the businesses, inlcuding manufacturers, and there will be more competition.
A precedent for this process is the entire space program, especially in the 60's. How many new products and product improvements came from the government sponsored space program? My company was one of the very first companies to develop the electron beam welding process for industry. And this was because the government purchased space equipment that needed the EB weld technology.
"As the design and manufacturing processes improve, costs will go down. This is exactly why the government should be putting its money where its mouth is. In other words, the governments should be buying solar for government buildings, miltary bases, etc. "
Al Klu, cost will comes downs only when technology becomes popular and competition happens with in the manufacturer.
Good Post. As the design and manufacturing processes improve, costs will go down. This is exactly why the government should be putting its money where its mouth is. In other words, the governments should be buying solar for government buildings, miltary bases, etc.
It was not right to just "loan" Solyndra $500M, but it is right to buy $500M of solar panels. It will help develop the industry to spend $500M on solar product (better be made in America) than it would be to buy aircraft and tanks that many times those folks don't even want.
The point is to buy different technologies and see which ones work best.
Finally, in addition to improving this industry, there is payback in lower electric bills across the board.
When the system was installed, Mssachusetts had a generous Solar Renewable Engergy credit (SREC). For every Megawatt-hour the system produced an SREC was issued. These credits were to be purchased by the power generation companies to compiy with renewable energy sourcing targets. This was supposed to create a demand for independtly generated SRECs. It worked for the first year and for each credit I recieved ~$500. I think I had 3 credits that were purchased at this price. Unfortunately, far more people/companies also saw this as a good thing and built quite a lot of solar capacity in the following year. This produced an oversupply of SRECs and the price was significantly depressed (~$235/SREC). Massachusetts is no longer allowing new installations under this system in order to stabilize SREC pricing.
The original calculations for payback showed something like 6 years for ROI. The SREC pricing has significantly disrupted this. I have a low interest loan on the installation (2.75%) and use the not isignificant electric bill savings to pay it down, along with the SREC sales proceeds.
I have continued to watch the prices of solar panels and other equipment and have seen them decline significantly. A system like mine could be built now for at less than half of what I paid for it.
I've learned a lot about how it should have been done, to make operational issues easier, but I have no regrets.
I have installed on my roof a 4200 W solar system. It's been in operation for about three years now. It's installed cost (grid tie - no batteries) was ~$30K.
On a really good day the system produces ~24KWhrs. My home uses on average about 24 KWhrs a day. Significantly more if one turns on the AC (sometimes required during the summer). Average daily production over a year runs around 13 KWhrs.
Snow on the panels cuts output dramaticly. I go out with a roof rake to try and clean them off. About a 1/2" of snow cuts output to nearly zero (39 Watts typical).
Cold weather makes the panels more efficient, but the big seasonal effect is just plain fewer hours of daylight. (I live in New England).
The panels I use are rated at 14.6% efficiency under "Standard Conditions". For a signifincantly higher cost you can get commercially available panels with claimed efficinecy of 21% (SunPower). The solar cells claiming efficinecies of 30-40% are concentrated cells (ie needing a optical concentrator lens). These cells only work in very high brightness sun conditions since there efficiency requires a high operating temperature. There manufacturers recommend them for high sun areas like the Southwest. Obviously they are very expensive, since they require optical lens assemblies.
For reference, "Standard Conditions" refers to 1000W/square meter illumination with surface perpendicular to solar input. I don't remember the temperature off hand but it's something like 25 degrees C.
I just thought I would present some hard data to this dicussion.
Thanks for your real-world perspective, LetoAtreidesll. It's always good to hear fromour reader experts who have this type of experience to provide context for some of the new technologies being introduced and researched.
From building and operating a small 2KW system (built 3 yrs ago) I can tell you from experience the tech still is not viable from a economic standpoint.
Sure you can build them and they work but the costs vs return are outrageous. I am not just talking the installation and purchase price but their are many cost often left out of the reports such as large maintence and upkeep cost these system do not maintain themselves and require preventive maintance as well as repairs and unlike a large generator or even a big turbine their power output is small so were a gas turbine could power 10,000 homes and a small force of 20 total employees maintain 5-7 of these (their is just this kind of plant 40 miles to the south of me with 18 employees and 5 generators) to supply that many homes you would need hundreds of acres of land and a very large workforce to maintain clean(yes for opt eff cells need cleaned they are glass by the way), PM'ed, protected yes a large solar field requires security guards to protect their assets, repair.....etc. These cost only increase as time goes on. And unlike the turbine that works day and night through rain and snow the solar field only produces solid power from a few hours after dawn to a couple hours before dusk on days were the sun shining solidly on cloudy rainy snowy days you end up with 20-40% power.
Solar is a great tool but is by no means the solution at least not for a long time it needs so many additional puzzles peices before it will truely be viable from an ecomonics standard. This is not to say the heavy hand of Goverment can not force it but that only hurts all the people as it can only result in large cost increases for power.