The idea of sun-generated electricity has been around for decades, as has the technology. What has inhibited its wider adoption is cost. But slowly and methodically, new solar power innovations have been chipping away at that barrier. Such is the case two advances developed by federal researchers. Both the Inverted Metamorphic Multi-junction solar cell and Hybrid CIGS (thin-film photovoltaics that use layers of copper indium gallium diselenide), from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), have the potential to transform the way solar cells are created and used in commercial markets.
The Inverted Metamorphic Multi-junction solar cell recently set a new world record with an energy conversion rate of more than 40 percent. The new cells are lighter and easier to produce than previous designs, and may be flexible enough to turn almost any building into its own power source. NREL also developed a new process for making Hybrid CIGS so that the cells can be integrated directly into building materials such as metal and glass. CIGS aren’t as efficient as conventional crystalline silicon cells, but can be manufactured faster and at a fraction of the cost.
Both new technologies received Research and Development Magazine’s 100 Award for the most significant developments in technology and innovations of the year, bringing NREL’s total 100 Award count to 42.