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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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Home use: water heating
By bobsmith1492 on 12/7/2006 10:32:53 PM , Rating: 2
For everyone that's talking about putting cells on your home, look into water heating systems instead. My school's engineering department put up a house here in town (LEED-certified, by the way! :P ) that uses hot-water heating panels.

They can be used to both generate hot water (apparently they'll keep water at 120 degrees on a cloudy, 20 degree Michigan day!) and also possibly to heat your home (only useful if you live in temperate zones).

Think of the efficiency gains: By using electric solar panels, you are converting solar power to DC electricity (40.7% max), DC to AC (maybe 90%+), transfering over mains lines to whatever is drawing the power (say 95+%), then converting through, say, an electric heater to useful heat energy (100%). That comes to less than 35% assuming you're using the latest and greatest (and not yet available) solar cells specified here - plus, they'll likely not work at all in an overcast Michigan winter.

So, on the other hand, with a hot-water heating system, I don't know the efficiency, but it's a lot easier to capture thermal energy from radiation than create electrical energy. By capturing heat and skipping all the in-between steps, you're much better off - and the panels are cheaper!

So, think about that if you live in any sort of temperate area. If you're in the south-west-southwest areas, maybe electrical panels are the way to go. Look into it! This is not an ad, by the way... just the rantings of a student who really enjoyed his thermodynamics class. :P

RE: Home use: water heating
By bigbrent88 on 12/9/2006 5:50:05 PM , Rating: 2
Actually I just looked at an old 1996 Pop Sci talking about solar shingles and roofing. They used an example where power generating cells can also heat water. Using the airspace behind cells to keep them cool, the hot air is diverted from the roof vent to an air-water exchanger which inturn heats the water. So you get extra efficiency from the same cells.

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