Inventors predict a leap in efficiency for solar cells

Pioneering engineer Dr. John Sullivan, says that silicon can be combined with other materials to increase the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

The inventor invented the silicon technology that is the dominant solar power source. He predicts that the efficiency of photovoltaic panels could be increased from 25% to 40% today by combining other materials with silicon.

Martin Green, an engineer, professor at the University of New South Wales and inventor of the technology used in approximately 90 percent of the world’s solar panel systems, predicted the outcome in an interview in London. The work was awarded an engineering innovation award.

Green and his collaborators developed the Perc, which is Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell. It reflects escaping light and electrons back to a photovoltaic cells. This increases its efficiency from 16.5 to 26%, making solar power more competitive with fossil fuels.

Perc is nearing the limit of efficiency. Perc will continue to be the mainstay of solar cells for the remainder of this decade. However, there will be challenges coming from other technologies.

His current research at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics focuses now on “stacked cells”. To maximize the conversion of sunlight’s wavelengths into electricity, these layers are made of other materials.

UNSW holds the record for a solar module with four cells in it. Green stated that the solar module is 40.6 percent efficient.

However, a cost-effective manufacturing process for stacking cells has yet to be created.

Green, along with fellow laureates Andrew Blakers and Jianhua Zhang, were awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for pioneering work in solar cells. This made it possible to produce affordable electricity from sunlight.

Green and his coworkers published their original findings in the open, without patent protection. This “encourages further developments within this field and drives down the cost production to the benefit wider society,” said the PS500,000 QE judge.

Green explained that “We believed commercial use would be far off the horizon — and that turned out not to be a very accurate assessment.”

Wang and Zhao were a married couple who came from China to conduct photovoltaic research at UNSW. They returned to China in 2006 to found China Sunergy now called CSun. It played a key role in the development of the Chinese solar cell industry, which now accounts to 80 percent of global output. Blakers is now working at the Australian National University on photovoltaics.

Lord John Browne, ex-BP chief executive and chair of the QE Prize Foundation, stated that “we are in the process global energy transition with Perc power and solar power at the forefront.” We are only beginning to see the power of solar, which still represents just 4 percent of global electricity generation. It is gaining momentum, especially in the US, where solar has lagged behind winds, and should have reached 20% within a decade

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