It seems like every time you turn around there’s a new solar product on the market for personal electronics like cell phones and mp3 players or solar panels for homes. In fact, some events like the Solar Decathlon are devoted solely to exhibiting the latest advances in sustainable solar power. There are plans for building your own solar power kits flooding the internet, although it’s recommended that for big solar panel installations you go to a professional. Yes, the race is on to see what company can create the most efficient solar panel, the ultimate goal being 50% efficiency. It seems that Sharp Corporation got the jump on the competition with a record setting 43.5% efficiency in May with their new triple-junction compound solar cell. This is a big advance over their previous panel which had a reported efficiency of 36.9%.
So how does the new solar cell work? According to Sharp:
“Compound solar cells utilize photo-absorption layers made from compounds consisting of two or more elements, such as indium and gallium. The basic structure of this latest triple-junction compound solar cell uses Sharp’s proprietary technology that enables efficient stacking of the three photo-absorption layers, with InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide) as the bottom layer.
“To achieve this latest increase in conversion efficiency, Sharp capitalized on the ability of this cell to efficiently convert sunlight collected via three photo-absorption layers into electricity.”
Everyone knows that solar power panels generate clean energy and are an excellent alternative energy source to fossil fuels, but the low efficiency is problematic. More efficient solar cells are important. Efficiency means a decrease in cost; you’ll need fewer cells for a given output. Greater efficiency also means that the carbon footprint of a solar installation will be kept to a minimum. The conventional panels currently on the market average at about 20% efficiency which is a great start, but the lower efficiency makes some consumers balk at making a purchase.
So far Sharp has reserved their new solar cell technology to the panels of satellites in space. Their future plans focus on adapting their triple-junction compound solar cell to aid consumers here on earth. Probably one of the most exciting aspects of this newfound efficiency is the possibilities to consumers. By bringing the new solar cell to earthly applications, Sharp is opening the door to another mini solar panel revolution of sorts. Greater solar efficiency makes the applications more suitable to daily life. Bringing the innovations out of the lab makes solar power less of an “outer limits” concept, and brings the solar panels home.
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