One of the biggest hurdles to people adopting solar panels as an energy source for their homes or business is their cost (with associated long payback period) and their low efficiency. What if there was a way to drastically improve efficiency, without the dramatic increase in cost or complexity that this normally entails?
Typical silicon solar cells have an efficiency between 12-20%. There are two main ways to improve this efficiency: use better materials or track the sun to maximize the sun’s rays hitting the solar cell. Both options make the solar panels more expensive. Solar panels such as those on space satellites which use materials such as multi-junction photovoltaic cells of gallium arsenide, indium gallium phosphide, and germanium can generate electricity with 38-46% efficiency. Alternatively, a sun tracking solar panel systems can increase the efficiency of a fixed mount system by 30-35% on an annual basis. The cost increase can be moderate (sun tracking) or up to two orders of magnitude (multi-junction photovoltaics).
But an enterprising new company, Insolight, has thought of a way to combine these methods in what I consider an ingenious system that, at 36% efficiency, is double the typical solar panel efficiency. Their solar panel devices will use a solar tracking and concentration layer to focus the incoming light to tiny areas of the expensive, high efficiency solar cells. The result will be a highly efficiency solar panels without their associated cost.
Let’s hope that Insolight and similar companies can make their products widely available on the market. I think we should all be curious, when can such a system be available for our home and neighbourhood?