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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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Is this really increasing efficiency?
By OxBow on 12/7/2006 12:42:09 PM , Rating: 2
The article lists that it's using concentrators and layering to get more energy out of each cell. While obviously this is a big improvement, it's not really increasing the conversion rate, but rather the amount of light collected and light collectors. The wafers themselves are still generating at their normal rate, they just have layers of them.

It's great that they've done this, but just goes to show how little the DOE has invested before into solar power over the years.

By Chudilo on 12/7/2006 12:53:06 PM , Rating: 3
You're not going to want to set up a concentrator on your roof. It would look pretty odd.

What you CAN do is, next time you need to redo your roof use the Photo-Voltaic shingles.
It's more money per shingle , but you get a better shingle which will serve as a shingle and as a solar panel.

By the time you'll have to replace the roof again, it would pay for itself and more.

That seems like a clever thing to do.

By masher2 on 12/7/2006 12:53:30 PM , Rating: 3
> "it's not really increasing the conversion rate, but rather the amount of light collected and light collectors...The wafers themselves are still generating at their normal rate."

Actually, the cell efficiency has been improved. Each layer of the cell is optimized for specific wavelengths of light, increasing the overall efficiency. The increase in overall flux from the concentrator is factored into the efficiency calculation.

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