Solar Can See Clearly Now: New Solar Concentrators Could Dramatically Reduce the Cost of PV

| 10/27/2008 5:15:04 PM

Tags: solar, energy, electricity, PV technology,

A couple weeks ago, we told you about a new, funky kind of solar panel that’s about to hit the market (Solar Panels Get a Make-over). A few months ago, we told you about a completely different kind of solar energy with gobs and gobs of potential — utility scale CSP, or concentrating solar power (Solar Thermal Power Coming to a Boil). We’ve also recently sung the praises of solar power potential in Solar Power Could Provide 10 Percent of U.S. Electricity by 2025. Clearly, we’re crazy for solar around here!

But can you handle even more good solar news? 

A team of researchers at MIT has invented an award-winning solar electric system that is vastly more efficient than typical solar panels. And believe it or not, it should be vastly more affordable, too. Props go to associate professor of electrical engineering Marc A. Baldo, graduate students in electrical engineering Michael Currie, Jon Mapel and Timothy Heidel, and postdoctoral associate in the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, Shalom Goffri. (Mad props also to the National Science Foundation, for supporting the research!)

The team’s “solar concentrator” collects the sun’s energy over a large dye-coated glass or plastic surface, such as a window, and gathers it at the edges. Therefore, expensive photovoltaic cells are only necessary around the glass panel’s edges. And the concentrated light actually multiplies the electrical output of each cell by up to 40 times. The best news may be for homeowners who already operate a solar electric system, because they’ll be able to boost their system efficiency significantly with even an inexpensive retrofit. Covalent Solar, the company founded by Currie, Mapel and Goffri, expects to be able to bring this technology to market within three years.

Watch professor Marc Baldo explain how these solar concentrators work:

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New whiz-bang technologies are always cool, but the best news behind this development is about affordability. Says the research team: “Unsubsidized solar electricity is over three times as expensive as the average grid prices for electricity derived from conventional energy sources, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Dramatic cost reductions are needed. Clean, renewable electricity at affordable prices would be an attractive alternative to conventional electricity and the related fossil-fuel dependence, greenhouse-gas emissions and peak-time grid constraints.”

bill roth_1
11/1/2008 12:20:06 PM

Solar energy is a great idea,BUT. At 65 years of age anything that would not pay out in about five years is not a good investment for me. Everything I have looked at has a pay out period of anywhere from 15 to 20 years before it becomes feasible to invest the amount of money require to install it. Wind Turbans not only have the same problem but are barred by city codes.

10/31/2008 10:59:29 AM

George: Apparently,you are not understanding what 6.8% means. This refers to energy conversion loss, which means inversion from DC to AC current. Read the article carefully and you'll find that the efficiency is actually 50%, fully 3X what your Sanyo system produces.

10/31/2008 10:09:59 AM

The comment that "unsubsidized solar electricity is 3x more expensive than grid" is completely misleading. The implication is that the grid is not subsidised. Grid power at actual cost, including subsidies and indirect costs (health care from coal fired air polution, acid rain etc), is more than 3x what we pay for it. Let's compare apples to apples in stories like this. Do make the point as stated but then go on to give a full explanation.

george works
10/31/2008 9:18:42 AM

The efficiency reported in Science magazine was 6.8%. This was projected, not measured. I just installed Sanyo silicon solar panels on my roof that have 17% efficiency, more than twice as high. And my panels carry a 25 year warranty, whereas organic dye cells have traditionally suffered from short lifetime. R&D is hard and most projects turn out to be dead ends. If it were easy somebody would have done it already. Only by following up every promising lead can we find the few that succeed. This is good work and I hope it succeeds. But if you need solar power, just install it and start benefitting. Don't wait for something better to come along. There will always be something better coming, and you will wait forever.

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