A team from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just set a new world record for solar energy efficiency by successfully converting 40.4% of available sunlight into electricity. And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the record was achieved by using commercially available solar cells in a new way – which means, as the team explains, “these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”
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The efficiency record was first set outdoors in Sydney, and was then independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab in the United States. The photovoltaic technology used by the UNSW team differs from conventional solar cell technology in one key way: it utilizes triple-junction solar cells. These cells, as Motherboard explains, “are basically a sandwich of differently tuned semiconductors with each one able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight.”
And so while “traditional methods use one solar cell, which limits the conversion of sunlight to electricity to about 33 percent, the newer technology splits the sunlight into four different cells, which boosts the conversion levels,” UNSW Professor Martin Green explained to the AFP.
We’re unlikely to see this particular design popping up in rooftop arrays anytime soon, however. The system combines elements from concentrated solar power cells with heliostat mirrors used in “power tower” projects. With one Australian solar company already on board, the Australian National Renewable Energy Association hopes “to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”
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