If you’re concerned about the environment or adoption of alternative energy, you may want to see some strong innovations made to solar photovoltaic panels. While solar projects continue to command funding across the world, the issue at hand is one of scalability and efficiency.
The largest solar facility in the world is located in Germany. Consisting of more than one half million solar panels, the facility produces a mere 53 megawatts of electrical power. To put that into perspective – the facility that spans the area of 210 football fields powers just 15,000 households.
On this scale, its unlikely that any major movement can be made to solar without technical innovations to improve size, cost and efficiency of photovoltaic panels.
As Danny Vo from Cooler Planet reports…
The most carefully designed, expensive and complex photovoltaic solar panels in the world operate at about 40 percent efficiency. The same is true for concentrating solar power, or CSP, though CSP also offers the advantage of energy storage. In addition, some three-phase CSP operations (solar energy, desalinated water for shaded horticulture, and cooled water for HVAC systems) can raise overall efficiencies to about 70 percent.
Recent discoveries out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggesting that indium/gallium/nitrogen alloys may be able to convert the entire spectrum of sunlight, still face a 70-percent ceiling. This, if commercially viable, is a 40 percent improvement over the most efficient multi-junction solar cell created, which is still rated at 30 percent.
A better margin is offered by scientists from Idaho National Laboratories, where the use of nanotechnology surface imprinting (of nano-antennas) allows infra-red capture. Infra-red is 47 percent of light’s spectrum, as compared to about 46 percent for visible light, and infra-red is also available at night.
Of course, there is currently no way to capture the energy produced, so the scientists are working to incorporate miniscule capacitors in the center of every nano-antenna, and this, if made commercially viable, would potentially provide up to 80 percent efficiency and change the paradigm for solar energy.
This is going to be the secret to solar’s success; not more solar, but better solar, allowing solar to eventually replace at least 25 percent of fossil-fuel electricity generation by making it both efficient and affordable.