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Technology: Solar Cells Jump in Efficiency

By Dick Weisinger

This summer has seen big breakthroughs in solar technology efficiency. Scientists at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced the development of solar cell efficiency of 47 percent.

John Geisz, a principal scientist in the High-Efficiency Crystalline Photovoltaics Group at NREL, said that “this device really demonstrates the extraordinary potential of multijunction solar cells.”

These new solar cells are build with III-V materials, and because of their cost, would currently limit the use which they could be applied. These types of cells are primarily used to power satellites.

Reducing the cell cost is one area also being investigated. Geisz said that “one way to reduce cost is to reduce the required area and you can do that by using a mirror to capture the light and focus the light down to a point. Then you can get away with a hundredth or even a thousandth of the material, compared to a flat-plate silicon cell. You use a lot less semiconductor material by concentrating the light. An additional advantage is that the efficiency goes up as you concentrate the light.”

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