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Bringing Concentrating Solar Cells to Products

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 03:12PM

Every day more energy comes to Earth from the Sun than humanity uses, so it is only natural that we are trying to harness it. The catch is that there are limits to how well we can capture this energy and the technologies that do better jobs tend to also be more expensive. Researchers at Penn State though have recently developed a high efficiency concentrating solar cell that could be small and cheap enough to make it to roofs.

Traditional photovoltaics are subject to the Shockley-Queisser or SQ Limit, which states that single-junction solar cells cannot surpass approximately 34% efficiency. With additional junctions and concentrated light however, that limit increases, and the Penn researchers have designed a new multi-junction concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system that could be cheap and efficient enough to make it onto our roofs. The photovoltaic element in the system is a miniaturized gallium arsenide solar cell less than a square millimeter in size that can be made in large batches. These cells are then placed on a moveable sheet between a lens and concave mirror, both of which are 3D printed. That sheet moves to keep the cell in the shared focal point of the lens and mirror, which moves over the course of the day as the Sun moves.

So far the researchers were able to achieve about 100 times solar concentration with their system, but 200 times concentration is possible with better printed lenses. The hope is to develop this technology into CPV panels that would take up as much room as traditional solar panels, but generate more power. One catch though is that they require a lot of direct Sunlight, so they are not suitable for all places.

Source: Penn State

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