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Improving Solar Cells by Hiding the Contacts

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 06:21AM

Solar cells are a technology more and more people and companies are turning too, but their efficiencies are still too low to truly compete with conventional energy sources. Many solar panels have an efficiency of just 20% or lower, which means at least 80% of the solar energy is lost. Researchers at KIT have devised a clever way to improve these numbers some, by hiding the electrical contacts that otherwise block like from reaching the active solar cells.

Along the surface of solar cells are electrical contacts needed for capturing the current the cells produce. As much as a tenth of the solar cell's surface area may be blocked by these contacts, so by hiding them, the amount of energy the cell produces could increase by that same amount. To achieve this, the researchers have developed two possible solutions that both apply a polymer coating to the cell. One solution needs the polymer to have precise optical properties such that the index of refraction changes based on location, redirecting the light to the active elements. The second approach is more promising as it could be added to mass produced solar cells cheaply. In this approach, the surface of the cloaking polymer is grooved so that the light that would hit the electrical contacts is refracted away from the contacts, and to the cell.

So far these methods have only been modelled on a computer, with the next step being to produce the solar cells and measure their new efficiencies. The researchers are optimistic that they will indeed recover that normally lost 10%.

Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

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