The University of NSW (New South Wales) researchers have come up with improvements in photovoltaic panel design that had not been expected for another decade. The breakthrough involves using hydrogen atoms to counter defects in silicon cells used in solar panels. As a consequence, poor quality silicon can be made to perform like high quality wafers.
The process makes cheap silicon “actually better than the best-quality material people are using at the moment”, the head of the university’s photovoltaics centre of excellence, Professor Stuart Wenham, said.
Silicon wafers account for more than half the cost of making a solar cell. “By using lower-quality silicon, you can drastically reduce that cost,” he said.
Boosting solar efficiency by over 20%
At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17 per cent and 19 per cent of the sun’s energy into electricity. UNSW’s technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent.
The price of solar panels has fallen by about 65 per cent in two years, partly due to a huge rise in production in China. Australians have been taking advantage of lower prices, with the number of homes with solar panels exceeding 1 million.
Panel prices are predicted to fall much further. European producers predict they will be 60 per cent cheaper by 2020. “Based on the technological advances we’re making, we think that’s certainly achievable,” Dr Wenham said.
Suntech funded much of the early work, including in China. “Suntech has the right to use that (intellectual property) and UNSW has the right to licence the technology to third parties,” Dr Egan said.
Funding to help commercialise the technology will total about $15 million over three years.
Already worth about $100 billion a year, the solar industry is expected to swell to about $140 billion by 2018
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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