The efficiency record was originally set in Sydney within an indoor testing facility, and was later confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab with a duplicated and ratified outdoor test at a facility in the United States.
“This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity,” said UNSW Professor Professor Martin Green, Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP).
The technology is based on triple-junction solar cells, essentially, differently tuned semiconductors where each is able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight. Within a single-junction cell there is a single semiconductor layer that snags photons within a single frequency range. With so many incoming photons going unused, the material’s maximum theoretical efficiency is restricted to 34 percent, compared to 86.8 percent when using a triple-junction cell.
The most exciting part is that the technology uses existing commercial solar cells in a new way – making the efficiency improvements readily accessible to the solar industry.
While “traditional methods use one solar cell, which limits the conversion of sunlight to electricity to about 33 percent, the new technology splits the sunlight into four different cells, which boosts the conversion levels,” Martin Green, UNSW Professor explained to the AFP.
While this particular technology doesn’t directly apply to rooftop arrays, the large scale commercial side is exciting.This system works directly with concentrated solar power cells and heliostat mirrors that are used in “power tower” projects.
One Australian solar company has already come aboard, and the Australian National Renewable Energy Association hopes “to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”
We’re in a bit of a solar race at the moment, and there are new technologies that are reaching beyond multijunction, technologies that can recapture lost heat, feeding back into a thermovoltaic cell or even into an old tech steam power plant that’s been updated to use sunlight rather than nuclear fission reactions or fossil fuel combustion.
No matter the application, more power and less effort is always a good thing!
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