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New solar-cell efficiency record set
Scientific American ^ | Aug 27, 2009 | David Biello

Posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:13 AM PDT by canuck_conservative

Here's a seemingly simple solar power fact*: the sun bathes Earth with enough energy in one hour (4.3 x 1020 joules) to more than fill all of humanity's present energy use in a year (4.1 x 1020 joules). So how to convert it? In the world of solar energy harvesting, there's a constant battle between cost and efficiency. On the one hand, complex and expensive triple-junction photovoltaic cells can turn more than 40 percent of the (specially concentrated) sunlight that falls on them into electricity. On the other, cheap, plastic solar cells under development convert less than 5 percent.

In between, ubiquitous photovoltaics—the multicrystalline silicon solar panels cropping up on rooftops across the country and, indeed, the world—struggle to balance the need for (relatively) easy manufacturing and low cost with technology to get the most electrons for your solar buck.

Yesterday, Spectrolab announced that its newest triple-junction solar cells had achieved the world record in efficiency, converting 41.6 percent of specially concentrated sunlight into electricity. All told, a tiny cell just 0.3174 square centimeters turned the sunlight equivalent of nearly 364 suns into 4.805 watts. That kind of efficiency is why 60 percent of satellites in orbit today bear earlier iterations of the technology; that's a total of roughly 640 kilowatts of Spectrolab cells circling Earth.

Those cells cost 40 cents per watt, according to the manufacturer—if you happen to have the sunlight equivalent of 500 suns streaming down while enjoying a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. In reality, only specialized applications like satellites (and government contractors or agencies like NASA) can afford the technology.

More Earth-bound photovoltaics, like Suntech's Pluto line of multicrystalline cells, which boasts 17.2 percent efficiency converting one sun's light into electricity, or Suniva's ARTisun single silicon crystal cells that can convert 18.5 percent of the sunshine into electricity, cost more than $2 per watt. Installation roughly doubles that price.

Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for, figuring that will make them cost-competitive with electricity produced by burning natural gas. Some manufacturers of thin film cells (less efficient but cheaper), such as First Solar, claim to have reached that mark, with efficiencies around 10 percent. Finding a way to further boost the ability to convert sunlight into electricity while also lowering costs to this level would herald the true dawn for solar power—something anticipated since photovoltaics were discovered.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: efficiency; electricity; energy; solarpower; sun
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By way of comparison, I think a gasoline powered motor gets about 25-30% efficiency.
1 posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:14 AM PDT by canuck_conservative
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To: canuck_conservative

Jimmy Carter suspects racism is what is driving this.


2 posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:57 AM PDT by Lazamataz (Put butter on your tag line.)
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To: canuck_conservative

mark


3 posted on 09/16/2009 8:18:49 AM PDT by delacoert (Good health to your belly button.)
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To: canuck_conservative

4 posted on 09/16/2009 8:20:54 AM PDT by xcamel (The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken)
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To: canuck_conservative
I priced solar power to install last year. With no government subsidies, I could easily pay the cost of my traditionally powered electricity with the just the interest of what it would have cost me to install solar cells (with optimistic predictions).

It is a no brainer. It makes no economic sense at this point in time. There is no ROI - ever.

5 posted on 09/16/2009 8:21:49 AM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
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To: canuck_conservative

And by way of comparison internal combustion engines ( as well as diesel and turbines) are scalable. Solar energy is still a pipe dream. Tell me what you do at night? What do you do when it is cloudy? How are you going to store any of that energy for later distribution and consumption?

Solar is useful for space craft period. oh and heating your water for a shower


6 posted on 09/16/2009 8:21:50 AM PDT by the long march
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To: canuck_conservative

Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for, figuring that will make them cost-competitive with electricity produced by burning natural gas.

I wonder if the cost they talk about takes into account the fact that you have to replace them all every 10 years or so.


7 posted on 09/16/2009 8:22:25 AM PDT by DManA
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To: canuck_conservative
Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for

I don't have a recent bill in front of me, but IIRC, my home uses 1600 watts a month. If the solar manufacturers attain their goals, I can power my home for just $1600 a month!!

Such a deal.

8 posted on 09/16/2009 8:26:22 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy (Play the Race Card -- lose the game.)
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To: DManA
$1/watt. Compared to a cost of about $0.10 per kilowatt-hour on my last bill means I would need 10,000 of full sunlight (10000 watt-hours = 10 kilowatt-hours for that $1) to break even. Longer if I have to pay for maintenance and a storage system.
9 posted on 09/16/2009 8:27:48 AM PDT by KarlInOhio ("I can run wild for six months ...after that, I have no expectation of success" - Admiral Obama-moto)
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To: the long march

Well of course, its not usable at night or when it’s overcast. Just like wind power can’t be used when it’s calm.

But they ARE there at times, free and available to augment to on-demand electricity supply.

The technology may be pricey at the moment, but it’s changing quick.


10 posted on 09/16/2009 8:28:20 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: 2banana
For me, however, it was the only viable solution. I'm just too remote for the utilities. It does help that my electric needs are small.

/johnny

11 posted on 09/16/2009 8:31:08 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: KarlInOhio

Yea the maintenance aspect is always overlooked in these stories. If they came up with a technology that produced electricity at $0.001 per kilowatt-hour, but you had to replace them once a week, that still wouldn’t be a very good deal would it?


12 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:00 AM PDT by DManA
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To: ClearCase_guy
I don't have a recent bill in front of me, but IIRC, my home uses 1600 watts a month. If the solar manufacturers attain their goals, I can power my home for just $1600 a month!!

No, the solar panels are a one time capital cost, not a recurring cost.

Your electric bill probably has 1600 kilowatt-hours per month which is an average power of 2222 watts if spread evenly over the month. Figure at 1/4 usage (my wild ass guess) for nights and clouds you would need 8888 watts of panels, or a one time cost of $8,888. Plus you need installation and storage. But those are one time costs. Now compare that to your monthly bill and see how long your payoff time is.

13 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:02 AM PDT by KarlInOhio ("I can run wild for six months ...after that, I have no expectation of success" - Admiral Obama-moto)
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To: canuck_conservative

They are not FREE. If you actually think that then you need to go back to science school.

Pricing for these technologies will not come down anytime in the foreseeable future -— nor should they. This is the same type of madness that drives people to food into fuel. Augmentation is not a main source and hence will never be lower in cost. If you want really consistent power then look to things such as shale, tar sands, nuclear, and coal


14 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:10 AM PDT by the long march
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To: Lazamataz
Actually it's Bush's fault. If it weren't for him, we could achieve 60% efficiency.
15 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:10 AM PDT by John.Galt2012 (I'll take Liberty and you can keep the "Change"!)
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To: JRandomFreeper

On my grandparents’ farm before electricity they generated gas from carbide and lit the house with that. I understand that was not uncommon. Wonder if that is still possible today for remote locations like yours?


16 posted on 09/16/2009 8:35:03 AM PDT by DManA
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To: 2banana

There is a way to convert solar energy into electric power at a reasonable cost. Make the Gulf of Mexico your solar energy collector, and tap that energy via the Gulf Stream as the moving ocean current passes through the Florida Straits.

Turbines located beneath the ocean surface would not conflict with visual appeal or vessel traffic.


17 posted on 09/16/2009 8:35:46 AM PDT by mission9 (It ain't bragging if you can do it.)
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To: canuck_conservative
The technology may be pricey at the moment, but it’s changing quick.

I've been hearing that since about 1973....

18 posted on 09/16/2009 8:36:12 AM PDT by Erik Latranyi (Too many conservatives urge retreat when the war of politics doesn't go their way.)
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To: KarlInOhio
Not true. As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) the useful life of the current generation is only about 10 years.

No, the solar panels are a one time capital cost, not a recurring cost.

19 posted on 09/16/2009 8:36:46 AM PDT by DManA
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To: DManA

Current generation - I think I accidentally make a joke.


20 posted on 09/16/2009 8:37:20 AM PDT by DManA
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