Solar panels reach 114% efficiency
Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a cell with external quantum efficiency greater than 100 percent. This does not mean that the photovoltaic cell is able to produce more energy than it absorbs; not even the guys at NREL can break the laws of energy conservancy.
Instead, the quantum efficiency of the solar panel cells has been improved beyond 100%. The quantum efficiency refers to the number of electrons that are flowing out of the panel divided by the rate of photons flowing into the panel from the upper region of the solar spectrum. Translation; solar cells just became a whole lot more efficient. The technology is still in the experimental phase, but it does bolster the solar industry which already boasts impressive technological improvements in the last decade. Not only is technology racing ahead, prices are dropping dramatically too, making solar a more logical choice for many home and business owners.
This newest development strengthens solar’s bid to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels. An article by PhysOrg detailed the discovery saying; “The newly reported work marks a promising step toward developing Next Generation Solar Cells for both solar electricity and solar fuels that will be competitive with, or perhaps less costly than, energy from fossil or nuclear fuels. Solar cells based on quantum dots could increase the theoretical thermodynamic power conversion efficiency of solar cells by about 35 percent relative to today’s conventional solar cells.”
The breakthrough technology, known as Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG) utilizes a layer of coated glass, a transparent conductor, a layer of lead selenide, a zinc oxide layer and (of course) a layer of gold to achieve its record breaking solar efficiency. MEG technology works by producing more than one electron-hole pair for every proton of light absorbed by the panel. The MEG panels represent a revolution in solar technology called the Third (or Next) Generation cells.
Photons used in the experiment are only from the near ultraviolet spectrums through to the visible light spectrum (from 350 to 700). The 114% efficiency is optimum rather than sustained. Still, the MEG technology does display a phenomenal breakthrough in the industry. The technology should make solar energy one of the cheapest fuel sources to date.
Just as the renewable energy world celebrates the breakthrough, a brewing price war between the US and China threatens the affordability of solar cells. Allegations of unfairly low trading prices from subsidized Chinese solar distributors have resulted in the US government calling for trade tariffs to be imposed on imported Chinese solar technology. The Chinese have countered with allegations that the US solar industry has also been heavily subsidized, imposing import tariffs of their own in response.
A trade price war could seriously impede the solar industry’s ability to become an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels. Concerns over impending climate change and should take precedence. Countries must continue to cooperate and collaborate to make solar energy as efficient and cheap as possible. The sun and our planet belong to everyone, so should solar energy.