Solar Panel Research Moves Forward, Briskly

2000px-Sun_icon.svgSunflare has released Sun2, which it says is a light and flexible solar panel that can be used almost anywhere.

The company says that its manufacturing process, Capture4, begins with stainless steel. Atop that is layered the semiconductors copper, indium, gallium and selenide semiconductors. This leads to a solar cell that the company says offers better low-light and high heat performance than more common cells in addition to the flexibility.

The company claims that Sun2 generates 10 percent more energy as solar cells at comparable cost because of better performance in both low light and hot temperature environments.

There is a lot going on in solar panel research as costs come down, renewables become a more accepted approach to power generation and solar is matched with storage and other technologies to provide broader and more holistic options.

The key metric for solar energy is the percentage of sunlight that can be converted to usable energy. Solar Love late last year posted a story on work being done by Sam Stranks, an experimental physicist at Cambridge University in England. Stranks’ work revolves around coating cells with the mineral perovskite. He says that doing so increases the maximum efficiency of a typical cell from about 30 percent to about 50 percent.

The story is balanced: Stranks cites the efficiency gain. He says the process is inexpensive and will be ready for commercialization this year. However, a representative from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said that the samples “degrade very quickly to zero” and that “[l]ight, air and water are all kryptonite to perovskites.”

Extreme Tech also has noted the great increase in solar research:

Much of the reporting we do on solar energy focuses on the cutting-edge research that shows big gains in the efficiency of solar cells. Some multi-junction concentrator designs for solar cells have shown as much as 43% efficiency (theoretical efficiency of over 80%), but these are very expensive systems that don’t work as well in real life conditions over time. The mainstream solar cell technologies are still based on inexpensive silicon designs and have a maximum theoretical efficiency of 34%, but the real life performance is around 22%. It turns out, that might be good enough to make solar power viable.

There seems to be tremendous potential for improving solar technology for two reasons. The first is that many different elements that can be upgraded. While the cells themselves are the main focus of research, incremental gains can be made elsewhere.

The other potential upside is that the drawbacks focus on the fact that a promising approach works well in the lab but not in the field. This suggests that the technologies being developed are at an early stage, and that it is possible that they can be made more stable and capable of withstanding real world conditions.

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