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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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Silicon, yes?
By gdillon on 12/7/2006 2:16:19 PM , Rating: 2
Those numbers really are pretty amazing, but it's important to think about the economy of the project as a whole. This is probably a crystallized silicon product -- global reserves of silicon are really tight. Most PV manufacturers are sold out of product until 2008. Incredible efficiency aside, if you can't make enough product, it's not worth that much.

I'm banking (literally, I hope the damn shares come back up soon) on CIGS thin-film technology. Not quite production capacity, yet, but it doesn't use silicon and has the potential to be much cheaper to produce. Much less efficient at this development stage, but when it's solar and you can put a farm in New Mexico where nobody's looking, you just make it twice as big and, presto, cost per watt decreases.

Buy shares of DSTI, please. My bank account (and the environment!) will thank you. :)

~g




RE: Silicon, yes?
By masher2 (blog) on 12/7/2006 2:28:16 PM , Rating: 1
> "This is probably a crystallized silicon product..."

No, crystalline silicon based cells are limited to around 25% maximum efficiency. These are multijunction cells, comprised of multiple materials, each optimized for a specific range of wavelengths. I didn't see in the article what specifically they were using for this cell, but its typically gallium, indium, arsenic, antimony, and the phosphides of the above.


RE: Silicon, yes?
By therealnickdanger on 12/7/2006 2:48:24 PM , Rating: 2
They are using gallium arsenide cells.


RE: Silicon, yes?
By masher2 (blog) on 12/7/2006 2:54:47 PM , Rating: 1
I'm sure they're using more than just gallium arsenide...you can't get a 30%+ efficiency with just a single material.


RE: Silicon, yes?
By gdillon on 12/7/2006 3:31:36 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, you're right, I looked up some stuff about gallium arsenide cells and they don't use silicon and they are thin film. Looks like they've been used most often on satellites and such. Wikipedia says they're maaad expensive, too: "They are also some of the most expensive cells per unit area (up to US$40/cm²)." The article linked from DailyTech suggests that this might become a really cheap price per watt solution, but I think that's "forward thinking" at the very least. It's the difference between producing some crazy efficient cells and creating a worthwhile product you could stick to your roof, power an airship, or use in a farm in the desert.

~g


"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs











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