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)
""Spectrolab, a Boeing company, is making and selling 38% and 44% concentrator cells to the space market."" Really you are going to try to make a conspiracy because the space bases cells are more efficeint. Well if i must explain common sense then lets do it. With a space cell it is optimized for a very different enviroment then an earth based cell plus cell cost is not important light and high power is they do not think twice of have a 10% gain in power that costs 2000% more. Space cells do not need to worry about over heating, hail, wind, snow load, bird droppings, oxidation, corrision, need I go on.
I did not know about this company Spectrolab, Trenth. That is really interesting to me. I will have to look into it. If this sort of technology can trickle down to the more mainstream markets as well that would be a real breakthrough.
I think 2014 will be a breakthrough year for solar technology. All of the evidence points to not only improved efficiency out of existing solar-cell technology but also new materials and ways of designing cells that will further improve how they work.
Spectrolab, a Boeing company, is making and selling 38% and 44% concentrator cells to the space market. They have very high reliability. I think it's just markets. They don't want to compete with cheap panels till they have to. They are expanding and decreasing manufacturing costs. But why would they want to fight the US gov promotion of fossils and nukes, the utility attacks on solar, and the cheap Chinese panels? They own the military space market.
If our gov would stop propping up the fossils and nuclear industries and start really energizing the solar, wind and waste to fuels industries we would make the transition to renewables much faster.
Besides there is no shortage of rooftops and parking lots for existing solar to supply more electricity than we currently know what to do with. More efficiency is a red herring, it's a marginal benefit.
Germany is paying it forward. They are putting their money into solar, wind and waste to heat electricity and fuels. Instead the USA is still plowing money into fossils and nuclear and keeping the prices artificially low and delaying the switch to ultimately cheaper renewable power.
Here's a rebuttal of the De Spegal and NY times articles. http://cleantechnica.com/2013/09/20/new-york-times-gets-big-red-f-germanys-renewable-energy-transition/
Did you think the fossils and nuclear industries would go quietly?
They don't like losing out to solar and wind, is that a surprise? They the core of their argument: it's really rough on their industry.
Gas turbines ramp up and down just fine, that's why they are used for peaking and backup, but the companies that own them, don't make as much money if they are not used all the time. Same for Hydro.
Hydro kills fish, and there is very little available new hydro in the USA. Maybe the underwater turbines will pan out, but not yet.
Hi Charles, these figures are bandied about globally by some governments and pretty much all providers, so either they have merrit or someone dreamt up the figure and everyone is jumping on that bandwagon that it suits. I only make this last statement for readers to remember that there are a lot of people that don't do their research properly either for convenience or laziness.
Anyhow over to other aspects of this, I've seen figures quoted higher than 30% for PV panels for maybe 10 years or more but the panels actually being sold never seem to be better than a tad over 20%, maybe 25%. This means either that the cost of getting these 40%+ efficiencies is so high it doesn't pay for the difference OR the innovation kills the reliability OR the conditions needed to get this efficiency are unrealistic in a real world like say < 1 degree offset from the perpendicular OR there's just a hell of a lot of work still to go. I think a detailed analysis of past failures to get to market could be very interesting.
Getting back to PV's, or any renewable energy the big clincher is always going to be storage, more storage and maybe more storage. With PV's the efficiency might be 44.7% but I'm sure that's for perpendicular light and so either a lot of panels at different angles or a direction adjusting system is going to be needed. Also based on my experience with our PV installation you need enough over capacity to get your required power on a heavily overcast day. We exceed our winter electricity usage from about 10:30 and drop below that level again after about 15:00 and in summer probably from 7:00 to 17:00 and inbetween that we produce 3x more than we need contributing to business peak use but not to residential peak use so I have to wonder how efficiently our spare kilowatts make it over to the business districts?? But if it's overcast we only get about 500W to 1kW out of what is a 4kW rated system, so 1/8th to a 1/4 during the peak light periods. This really does make the 15%-30% projections you mentioned sound realistic not including the zero input from PV's overnight.
Don't get my ramblings wrong, I still believe we need to go renewable, just that we need to do a lot of thinking about how it's going to work.
Finally, thanks Elizabeth for an interesting post, it's good see the world is plodding on despite a few setbacks.
The German data is correct, solar is peaking summer ac power.
If Germany is sunny enough, most of the world is too.
Solar panels for snowy areas are at high angles, have a slick surface, so snow slides off, and panels work through as much as 2 inches of snow.
Solar is not at it's best in the winter, obviously. No one source will supply our needs. solar, wind backed with waste fuels in backup generators, particularly CHP local generators which provide heat as well, CAN.
Why don't you read the article or look up vehicle to grid, it's a scholarly article from a university. The batteries eliminate frequency reserve spinning reserve with nearly zero wasted power, and give the backup turbines the 15 minutes they need to ramp up. Using only 2% of the battery, and recharging right after that, at a profit for the vehicle owners, and savings for the utility companies. cars spend 95% of their time parked.
Lots of companies have charging stations in their parking lots, and obviously more will as it becomes more popular. I never said pure electric, I assume plug in electric hybrids that can go as far as any car. some 90% of passenger car trips are less than 30 miles. That's all electric for as hybrid like the Volt.
Power companies have massive amounts of land, that's really not a problem, remember they are only for a few minutes at a time, not hours, not days, that what waste fuels in existing turbine are for.
Thanks for risking your life to defend the country, that has nothing to do with this discussion.
Do your own math. Solar panels now cost 50-70 cent on the world spot market, less than 2$ installed in Germany and sometimes in the USA for large systems. They last over 30 years. Not 15, not 20.
The DOE, the old atomic energy Commissions, still 90% nuclear related activities, doesn't even calculate solar cost themselves, they used SolarBuzz, that assumes 15 year life and batteries. Sadly, nearly everyone just uses the DOE numbers.
The DOE is oriented towards big energy companies and solution, they don't even count residential.
Is it so hard to believe they are captive to the fossils and nuke industries? You know the USA, best gov money can buy. Reading the DOE/EIA annual reports is a joke, it's in Thermal BTU's, it doesn't even break out wind and solar, and does not reference their numbers and assumptions.
http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/assumption/pdf/renewable_tbls.pdf Really? It will take the USA till 2035 to come close to Germans solar cost now? And try to find the reference assumption for solar. They won't even let you cut and paste from the document. Please, show me what cost of panels, what lifetime, and storage that the DOE/EIA use for the calculations. They have hidden really well.
Yes, batteries will help solar be even better, but it's not needed.
Wikipedia is not a valid Backing for data, anyone can post anything there.
You want to convince me , Get a paper published by a university or major company in the field of energy production.
And you miss my point entirely, Yes, I admit SUNNY areas can benifit.
You miss the point that MOST of the USA is NOT considered Sunny !!!
It has been below freezing for the entire last month here. Overcast and snowing for a lot of that time. SOLAR CANNOT COMPETE HERE.
And If Every Electric Car in the country were plugged in, I expect that would power the grid for about 5 minutes, then all those folks could walk to work because the batteries would be flat. They plug them in to Charge Up, not power the grid, you are expecting the power to flow the wrong way, last I checked (long ago), it wasn't possible to do that.
And they can't charge during the daytime, last I checked, there was precisely one public charging station in the entire state. It's over in the State Capitol. That's a two hour drive from here, which is outside the range of most electric cars anyway. As far as the Expended batteries, Just how many of those do you think exist at this point, I do not expect it's enough to matter yet.
Oh, and where are the power companies supposed to keep them?
But feel free to spread your opinion, I spent a career in the Military to ensure you have that right.
I will stick to Facts, such as those quoted below you by Charles.
I Like Hydro-Electric for the Record. It's clean, relatively cheap and runs 24/7/365. No backup needed. Where I grew up in Colorado, Lots of power came from that. But more came from burning Coal to drive steam turbines. That is still the power of preference there. (Also a low solar influx there)
"Last time I checked, solar PV was the most expensive from of green energy, by a long shot. The levelized costs of solar PV were only exceeded by solar thermal and off shore wind. Less expensive PV panels will help, but it seems like it will need to be more than just incremental efficiency increases. "
SesmoAndrew, I won't agree with that statement. As per my knowledge, it's the cheapest form of natural/green energy when compare with wind mills and hydro-electric systems.