New Device Could Make Solar Cheaper, More Efficient

| 5/26/2016 10:13:00 AM

Tags: home energy, energy efficiency, clean technology, solar power, Kayla Matthews, Pennsylvania,

solar panels 

If you're an environmental enthusiast, you're probably well educated about the recent innovations in green energy. You're likely familiar with the latest, impressive Solar Impulse project, in which the world-breaking Solar Impulse 2 has become the first solar-powered aircraft to fly around the world — and by the way, the plane is currently in Tulsa, Okla. Maybe you've even spent some time installing solar panels on your roof in your noble quest to make your household more green.

The latest and greatest in solar technology? A simple light-trapping prism that's broken another world record in solar efficiency.

How Does the Solar Prism Work?

The glass prism, which maximizes the amount of energy it can derive from sunlight, contains a 28-square centimeter, four-junction miniature module that works by utilizing a hybrid receiver designed to convert electricity from each sunbeam more than other devices. The four junctions divide the rays into four separate bands. The prism includes a band-reflect filter measuring 900 to 1,050 nanometers and multiple solar cells to trap light. The ultimate goal is to eventually increase the mini-module to 800 square centimeters.

How Was the Prism Developed?

The solar-efficient prism was built by a research team, led by Martin Green and Mark Keevers, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. Green, who serves as director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at the university, says the device is still in the prototype phase and probably won't be commercially available for at least another decade. But ultimately, the researchers have hopes that the prism could be used on rooftops — both on residential homes and business buildings — to create a widespread breakthrough in solar efficiency.

Just How Efficient Is the Prism?

 According to preliminary studies with the light-trapping prism, the device has broken solar-efficiency records because it has converted 34.5 percent of solar energy into usable electricity. That may not sound like much, but it's substantially more than currently available technology is capable of achieving. The previous solar-efficiency record, set by a module created by the U.S. solar company Alta Devices, was 24 percent. The typical efficiency range for available solar panels is between 14 and 22 percent.

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