A team of researchers from Boston College and MIT have developed a hybrid flat panel that is capable of producing electricity from the sun’s rays as well as hot water for thermal energy. The team’s new flat panel is eight times more efficient than previously developed solar thermoelectric generators and could make solar thermoelectric technology more cost effective on a wider scale. Solar Thermal energy is expensive and generally employed in large installations — like the one above — with this new flat panel, solar thermal energy could become a much more valuable investment. The team has increased the energy output without adding much to the dollar sign side of the equation.

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In order to develop the panels the team used nanotechnology to combine spectrally-selective solar absorbers in a vacuum sealed chambers with high-performance thermoelectric materials. “Existing solar-thermal technologies do a good job generating hot water. For the new product, this will produce both hot water and electricity,” said Boston College professor of physics, Zhifeng Ren. “Because of the new ability to generate valuable electricity, the system promises to give users a quicker payback on their investment. This new technology can shorten the payback time by one third.”

The added materials doesn’t make the panel much more expensive than existing solar thermal technology — but increases the energy generation dramatically — which means this could be a big development in clean energy markets.”We have developed a flat panel that is a hybrid capable of generating hot water and electricity in the same system,” said Ren. “The ability to generate electricity by improving existing technology at minimal cost makes this type of power generation self-sustaining from a cost standpoint.”

Via PhysOrg