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US DOE helps fund advanced solar technology

Solar cell technology has always shown promise as a source of renewable energy but relatively low efficiency levels and high costs have kept it out of the mainstream energy market. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that with the help of government funding, Boeing-Spectrolab has demonstrated a concentrator solar cell with a record-breaking 40.7% efficiency rating.

With concentrator solar cells, sunlight is intensified with the use of an optical concentrator. This allows for more electricity to be extracted out of each solar cell. Also employed are multi-junction solar cell structures which allow more of the solar spectrum to be captured by using multiple layers per cell. Each layer in a cell is then able to capture a segment of sunlight allowing for more efficient electricity production.

“Reaching this milestone heralds a great achievement for the Department of Energy and for solar energy engineering worldwide. We are eager to see this accomplishment translate into the marketplace as soon as possible, which has the potential to help reduce our nation’s reliance on imported oil and increase our energy security,” said Assistant Secretary Karsner.

With this new technology, the DOE is projecting that installation costs for these types of solar cells would drop to $3 per watt with electricity costing 8 to 10 cents per kWh. The long-term goal is to have solar energy technology installed in as many as two million American homes providing power at 5 to 10 cents per kWh by the year 2015.

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By therealnickdanger on 12/7/2006 12:03:15 PM , Rating: 2
costs for these types of solar cells would drop to $3 per wall

LOL, that would be incredible!

It really is amazing how quickly this technology is adavancing. I plan on taking advantage of solar energy in my next home. Assuming a $3/Watt efficiency, I calculated it would cost ~$25,000 to equip my home with enough PV to power my current needs +20%. By default, the online calculator assumes $9/Watt efficiency, so it is much pricier. By the time I'm ready to buy, it will probably be cheaper...

By Sureshot324 on 12/7/2006 4:26:19 PM , Rating: 2
Another thing that would encourage solar power in homes, and I think a few states are already doing this, is to require the power companies so let you sell excess power back to them. Whenever your solar powers are generating more power than you need, they're making you money. When they're making less, you still have the power grid to back you up.

This eliminates the need for batteries, because the entire power grid is your battery. Also you don't need to drop 40k at once on a solar system. You can increase the amount of panels gradually.

By lemonadesoda on 12/7/2006 6:11:34 PM , Rating: 2
The cost of "connecting" and metering when selling electricity to the grid is much too expensive for a consumer/single home. It only makes sense when you have a medium/large solar farm.

In fact, just the equipment needed to transform the DC to the appropriate AC three phase would probably consume all of the little trickle of electricity you get from home roof panels.

So there'd be nothing left to sell, and probably about $50,000 of additional equipment in addition to the cost of the cells.

More problems:

1./ The typical half-life of a solar cell is around 15-20 years. No commerical solar farm is designed to operate on the same panels for >20 years. It just isnt feasible. They need to be replaced.

2./ The new 40% efficiency ration is actually achieved using lens tricks, essentially taking a larger area of light and concentrating it onto the cell. Unfortunately, this technique also shortens the life of the cell, albeit, by not as much as the gain in efficiency.

By masher2 on 12/7/2006 6:48:00 PM , Rating: 3
> "The new 40% efficiency ration is actually achieved using lens tricks, essentially taking a larger area of light and concentrating it onto the cell..."

The concentrators aren't a "trick". The efficiency is calculated against the amount of light energy impacting the concentrator itself, not the cell. So if a concentrator focuses 100x the light on a cell, that cell has to produce 100x the power to equal the same efficiency ratio.

The concentrators are useful for two reasons. Firstly, in the above scenerio, the cell would actually produce *more* than 100x the power, due to the higher flux allowing the secondary junctions to be more efficient. Secondly, concentrators are much cheaper per sq. meter than the cells themselves. Focusing the light gives a substantial cost advantage.

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