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80% Improvement In Solar Cell Efficiency

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the watt-a-breakthrough dept.

Power 204

An anonymous reader writes "Chemistry researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory say they've improved the efficiency of typical solar cells by a whopping 80% by creating a 3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform. The technology tackles the problem of poor transport of charges generated by solar photons. These charges — 'negative electrons and positive holes' — typically become trapped by defects in bulk materials and degrade performance. 'We designed the three-dimensional structure to provide an intrinsic electric field distribution that promotes efficient charge transport and high efficiency in converting energy from sunlight into electricity.' Bottom line, they say, is they've boosted the light-to-power conversion efficiency of photovoltaics by 80 percent."

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204 comments

80% from what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979238)

20%? So it's 36% now?

Re:80% from what? (2)

euroq (1818100) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979274)

Of course you didn't actually read the article, you just wanted to post first. No matter what the X is in "80% of X", this still means that you'll be able to get 80% more power from a solar panel.

With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

Re:80% from what? (4, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979492)

Actually, it does matter, because if you start from a less efficient process and go up, you may not exceed the efficiency of a more efficient process. So the amount you can 'get from a solar panel' may not change at all.

Which is, if you read the article, actually the case here.

Re:80% from what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980558)

Of course you didn't actually read the article, you just wanted to post first. No matter what the X is in "80% of X", this still means that you'll be able to get 80% more power from a solar panel.

Except if this technique only works with panels where X 2%, then it's never going to be of any use.

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (4, Informative)

Thagg (9904) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979278)

From the fine article: "With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency..."

So, with a ridiculously bad solar cell, they could increase the efficiency to something that's still ridiculously bad.

The key to solar cells is watts/dollar.

Thad

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (5, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979446)

From the fine article: "With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency..."

So, with a ridiculously bad solar cell, they could increase the efficiency to something that's still ridiculously bad.

Exactly. It was miserably inefficient previously, and now now its 180% of miserable.
If the same techniques could work on the top-end PRODUCTION solar cells, which hover around 20% you could perhaps approach 35%.
But the whole idea of % efficiency is fraught with peril. [wikipedia.org] which is why people usually revert to dollars per watt per square meter or some such.

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (4, Insightful)

aurispector (530273) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979510)

Dollars per square meter (or perhaps kilowatt-hour) is the only really relevant measure. Once it's cheaper to make electricity this way it will take off.

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980162)

It's $/kWh that is the primary measure. kWh/m^2 is important for site installation, but not nearly so critical as $/kWh for market entry.

If it's cheaper per watt, someone will find a site for it.

-Rick

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979544)

Efficiency is not irrelevant. A given installer only has a finite amount of space to make use of, installing panels costs money, running wires costs money, etc. And especially if they're on a heliostat, but even if they're not, you have to build them hardy enough to withstand the weather for decades. The per-panel or per-square-meter overhead is not irrelevant, and thus efficiency is not irrelevant.

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (2)

tloh (451585) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979706)

It is unfair to speak in such one dimensional terms. In many cases, there is a direct correlation to cost. Consider, for example, how a more efficient solar cell can reduce the mass (and by extension launch cost) of a satellite. Maybe a few of us have become jaded by the exponential growth in some sectors of high tech. In the real world, however, progress occurs in increments and every little bit is worth celebrating as a step closer to the next breakthrough.

Re:80% from what? No! Far worse than that! (1)

Bruha (412869) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980020)

Look at it this way, you can use a smaller footprint to gain the same amount of power. That's savings you cant pass by if it gets commercialized and is cheaper than current models.

Re:80% from what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979350)

20%? So it's 36% now?

Not even...
Try taking less than 10% of your 36% and then you'll be in the ballpark of the true net efficiency of these new solar cells (e.g. they're actually almost up to 3.2% true net efficiency at converting light into electrical current... they used to be less than 2% net efficiency)

Available In -5, Discouraging (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979254)

2020?

Yours In Crawford,
Kilgore Trout

Re:Available In -5, Discouraging (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979564)

Ahh. Solar powered lesbian sex robots, no taller than your little finger. What will they think of next?

Yawn (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979256)

Call me when it's on the market.

Re:Yawn (5, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979394)

Because like the rest of the world, slashdot can't care about pure research, but instead only what can be put on a shelf and advertised by google now now! now!!!!?

Re:Yawn (3, Insightful)

Amouth (879122) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979474)

its not that we are impatient..  BUT the fact the solar cells that are available today are basically the same as the ones 15 years ago and the new tech is always 5 years off every damn year..  its mainly that we all know that there are reasons we don't see these things and it has to do with making other people more money..

i have zero problem with pure research.. just when it's just wonderful and they try to play it off that it will save the world or help us in the next so many years..  then it never shows up...  yea nothing seems to change.. 

Re:Yawn (5, Funny)

Cytotoxic (245301) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979570)

We are working on a fix for that.... it should be ready in about 5 years.

Re:Yawn (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979656)

It's like the kids in the back seat on vacation...

"Are we there yet?"

"20 minutes"

"Are we there yet?"

"20 minutes"

Re:Yawn (2)

Thraxy (1782662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979916)

And 90 years later we were finally there...

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979954)

Obligatory http://xkcd.com/678/

Re:Yawn (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979578)

They're not playing it off like it'll save the world. They're playing it off like it solves a long standing problem in organic photovoltaic synthesis, a problem which has been what's keeping the technology "five years off." Research isn't a cake: you can't just wait and expect your investment of time to be repaid in full. Problems like these need to be figured out.

That said....inorganic semiconductors with 3.2% efficiency!? That's awful, and they know that. The accomplishment here is that in THIS system, the nanocone morphology improves the efficiency. Will it improve any other system? Will it improve photovoltaic cells that don't have such low efficiencies? We don't know, the SPO was just trigger happy. This article is equivalent to an article on the oxidation of nitrogen being titled MIRACLE PROCESS USES AIR TO FUEL CARS

Not exactly.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979822)

Solar cells can now be purchased for about $3 a watt. That's WAY down from 15 years ago and greatly decreases the period until payback.

Re:Yawn (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979832)

BUT the fact the solar cells that are available today are basically the same as the ones 15 years ago

BUT the fact is that you've clearly not paid one iota of attention to the price difference between today's cells versus those of 15 years ago (just so you know, they're about 1/3rd the cost now), nor the chemistry differences between today's cells and those of 15 years ago (go back to 1996 and find me a mass-market CdTe cell, won't you? The largest PV manufacturer in the world is now CdTe)

Re:Yawn (2, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980706)

That's all good and fine, but an article claiming that solar PV cells are 80% more efficient come up on Slashdot about once a month, each using a different method. Yet the cells we have today are nearly as grossly inefficient as they were 15 years ago. I'm glad price is moving forward, but even if in 15 years time panels are free if I still need to blanket the entire roof with shiny panels that have a high carbon footprint to produce, then really what's the point.

What we need is for these efficient cells to finally come to the market. I would gladly pay 8 times the money for a solar panel if I need only 1 instead of 8, and the associated manufacturing carbon footprint would be reduced as well. Sadly this reality seems as far away as fusion power, perpetually another 5-10 years.

Re:Yawn (4, Informative)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980066)

Solar cells are actually significantly ahead of where they were 15 years ago. There's no huge jump, but there really can't be, as we're nearing the theoretical limit of simple pv cells. More complicated cells can do better, but again the maximum amount better is less than 3x, and that is all the improvement we can ever get.

Have a look at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency [wikipedia.org]

and you'll see the slow but steady march of progress. That march is reflected in the commercial cells you can buy as well.

Re:Yawn (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980728)

hmm, That article is suspect. They claim a payback of 1-4 years. I can't find any consumer cells that you can payoff in 4 years. I would like to see those numbers with with high end non-consumer grade cells pulled out of the equation.

" That march is reflected in the commercial cells you can buy as well."

where?

Re:Yawn (2)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979794)

Every 2 months or so someone revolutionizes Solar Cells. Or at least that's what the articles suggest. Now I admit I don't keep to breast with current technologies, but has ANY of them reached production?

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980084)

Amen. You nailed it. Something's just not right here. One guy says cells are 1/3 as expensive as 15 years ago? Real dollars? Actual dollars? Either way, I'd like to see something tangible.

Re:Yawn (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980126)

The dollars per watt has dropped to 1/3rd, WITHOUT even accounting for inflation, which is favorable to this example.

Re:Yawn (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980112)

Yes, lots. The steady pace of innovation is slowly but surely raising the efficiency of cells toward a limit set by fundamental physics.

Re:Yawn (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980744)

You keep saying that. Where is the on the shelf evidence?

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980202)

Actually, I believe that Oak Ridge revolutionizes solar cells every 2 months.

Who needs solar cells... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980674)

when they have this [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979910)

Pure research is fine, results are great, but I worry that this will get people to wait on buying current solar panels because they think something 'new and improved' will come out in the next few weeks.

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979590)

tired from breathing all that vaporware?

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979920)

I wonder how soon the Chinese will be able to incorporate this into solar panels so I can buy them?

Misleading title (3, Insightful)

vsage3 (718267) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979260)

With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

So the efficiencies went from awful to slightly less awful.

Re:Misleading title (3, Insightful)

nschubach (922175) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979670)

This is the edition for the managers... they like big numbers when talking increases.

Re:Misleading title (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980750)

Actually, they over came some, until now, fundamental obsticals. That's the story.

Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (5, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979276)

To be pedantic, they have boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells.
They've taken a 1.8% efficient solar cell and turned it into a 3.2% cell.

I wish the world's press offices would declare a moratorium on announcing breakthroughs in solar technology.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979366)

When the submitter is anonymous, the editor should have at least spent couple of minutes to read the article. May be the authors are self promoting by sensationalizing an unimportant invention (if you call it an invention).

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979382)

I wish the world's press offices would declare a moratorium on announcing breakthroughs in solar technology.

I don't complain because, since the deaths of FEDs and their ilk, I need something to take the place of the Display Tech. of the Week articles we used to get.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (1)

mallyone (541741) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979420)

Or at least the slashdot crowd would be intelligent enough to not mod them up ... hehe, I used "slashdot crowd" and "intelligent" in the same sentence.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (5, Insightful)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979534)

While I appreciate your snarky cynicism, Mr. Landis, not every advance in the world is measured in miraculous breakthroughs. Some things are hard and just improve incrementally through the hard work of people that give a shit. They work hard and figure out how to make things better a bit at a time. That's in contrast to the people that just sit back and do nothing while waiting for the miraculous breakthroughs. While asshats the world over snicker because these solar cells are "slightly less lousy", the people that give a shit will continue to bust their asses to make things better until the day when they cross the line that defines a "massively viable" solar cell. Then the critics will jump on board and ride the wave as if they had everything to do with it and were believers all along. Now THAT'S depressing and worthy of cynicism.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979764)

Relax. Most of us work for a living too, ya'know. It's not just the poor, down-trodden lab geeks that get kicked around. Some of us even hurt our bodies every day working largely for someone else's benefit.

Hell, nobody even writes these hyperbolic press releases about our work. We get a meager check and maybe, just maybe, a "good job" before we're sent on our way. So yeah, some of us might occasionally get a little snarky on a web forum somewhere when we see things intentionally blown way out of proportion.

Take a deep breath.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (1, Interesting)

MarcQuadra (129430) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979646)

Don't be silly, we're right on the brink of a major breakthrough!

http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/04/25/npfb-1978/ [bravenewclimate.com]

The 'greenies' have ben 'Microsofting* us for decades now. It's time to do something for -now- and plan for -later- when the big breakthrough lands.

* Microsoft: verb; To announce a feature or product that negates the value of the most likely competitor, but never actually deliver the product. See als: Real Soon Now.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (1)

0xG (712423) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979660)

Yes, but this is "NANO" technology!!! This kind of press release is always good for a couple of points on the OTC. (which is what its all about)

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979666)

Right. The current record for an experimental solar cell technology is around 42%. Mainstream commercial products run 12 to 20%. That's up from 6% in the original Bell Labs solar cells in the 1950s. Single-layer cells have a theoretical limit at 34%, but multi-layer cells can beat that somewhat.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980320)

It would be handy if the 25 teams claiming a doubling of solar cell efficiency would get together and make one really super-duper one wouldn't it.
I wouldn't expect their doublings to exactly multiply but it's bound to be, say, at least double as efficient. ;-)

Sure! (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980680)

Just as soon as we work out the patent license. :(.

Re:Boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979966)

I wish the world's press offices would declare a moratorium on announcing breakthroughs in solar technology.

Shesh, next you'll be asking for them to report actual news like someone announcing they're running for president instead of just speculating that the person in question might possibly be thinking about possibly running.
And you'll want the History Channel to have shows on actual history instead of one that speculates on what would happen if an asteroid hits Detroit causing a Tsunami in Lake Ontario.
Maybe you even want the Sci-Fi channel to show only science fiction? Oh wait, they aren't the Sci-Fi channel anymore - never mind....

Fantastic! (2)

Akili (1497645) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979316)

Wonderful! Amazing! ...Just like the other half-dozen or so solar cell improvements I've read about over the past few years.
But unless we can actually BUY these upgraded units soon, I'd like to add one more appropriate adjective: Pointless.
(Okay, maybe not entirely pointless. But that's what it feels like when all of these more-efficient panels never seem to show up anywhere.)

Re:Fantastic! (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979424)

But innovations like this are exactly why solar efficiency has, in fact, slowly but steadily improved over the last couple of decades.

Re:Fantastic! (1)

Edsj (1972476) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979536)

Can't wait to see hitting the market in 3010!

Re:Fantastic! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980546)

True, although it seems like every claimed "60% increase in efficiency!" ends up increasing efficiency by about 1.7%, once it's actually put into production. I think the reaction is more to the hyperbole of the announcements, rather than the fact that there's simply a claim of improvement.

Re:Fantastic! (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980742)

That sounds great when you mention it like that, but the reality is solar PV has an abysmal efficiency, and is still the single most expensive and realestate exhausting technology available. While I welcome every effort to improve it it does seem like there's a "breakthrough" in solar PV every month that never actually makes it to the market.

At the snail pace we are going solar PV will likely become a viable option just in time for the demise of the human.

Re:Fantastic! (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979476)

Just like the other half-dozen or so solar cell improvements I've read about over the past few years.

They're taking the extra time to combine all the improvements together, so it gets delayed a little every time a new discovery is made. But when they're finished we should have solar cells that are 320% efficient at converting the sun's energy to electricity!

Re:Fantastic?? (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979626)

Maybe so, but the mainstream solar cell market is already at 18-24% efficiency. These clowns are only at 3.2%. If this one shows up on the market nobody will care even if they are dirt cheap and you can paint your house with them. The solar paint technology, as bad as it is, is already at 5% efficiency.

Raw Percents! Yay! (0)

ittybad (896498) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979378)

This year, I have had an, on average, 75% increase in shoe purchases. That is to say I bought a pair of shoes this year. So an 80% increase is what? Can we get some real numbers here. If this goes into production, how much do I need to power my home?

Nice! (0)

koan (80826) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979384)

Anyone told Exxon and the Saud's yet?

Re:Nice! (0)

Leolo (568145) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979556)

What is a yet?
Why do the Sauds have one?
Why does the Saud's yet need to be told of this?

Re:Nice! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35979724)

What is a yet?
Why do the Sauds have one?
Why does the Saud's yet need to be told of this?

I think it's related to an alot [blogspot.com] .

Doesn't matter to the Saud's. . . (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980130)

The Saud's are running out oil anyhow. They need to start planning for how *they* will power their nation when the oil production drops to 50% of what it used to be.

There's a reason that the UAE is planning a $20Bn nuclear plant [world-nuclear.org] . Saudi Arabia is part of a coalition of States working with UAE on that plant, and I believe the idea is that they'll build a large plant in UAE, then Saudi Arabia and other nearby nations can buy power from that plant, sent via transmission lines.

However, while solar isn't a great option in places like Germany or the Northern and Eastern United States, it could provide lots of power in places like the Arabian Peninsula, or the U.S. Southwest.

Technology is definitely making progress towards better solar cells. The big problems now are storage and reducing transmission losses, so you can store enough surplus power during the day for use at night and cloudy days (which, for the Arabian peninsula, isn't going to be many days a year, at least), and don't lose too much power during transmission.

Where were we before ? (0)

RichMan (8097) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979558)

The question is what was the base efficiency they were starting from ?

If the efficiency was 10% before it is now 1.8 * 10 = 18%
If the efficiency was 15% before it is now 1.8 * 15 = 27%
If the efficiency was 30% before it is now 1.8 * 30 = 54%

If the efficiency was 60% before it is now 1.8 * 60 = 108% - > thats unpossible

The crappier it was to begin with the easier it was to make it better.

Where they actually are
"With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials."

Wow 3.2% efficiency. Great stuff indeed.

But if you look around other people are doing more than 10x that or a 1600% increase over the base line for this report.
Crystalline silicon devices are now approaching the theoretical limiting efficiency of 29%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency

Meh (1)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979672)

180% of Meh is still effectively Meh.

STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matter (1, Insightful)

lazn (202878) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979798)

efficiency doesn't matter to me at all. Price / watt does

I don't care if they are 100% efficient if they cost $20billion / watt.

But show me one that is cheap enough to afford to cover my roof with that the end total wattage is enough to cover something close to my power use (or more) and I'll do it.

The % efficiency make absolutely no difference to me at all, zip, zero, nada. DON"T CARE!

They are loosely related (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980000)

The problem with price per Watt, while that's certainly important, is that, say for example with current Tech, covering every square inch of your roof with solar panels gives you, let's say 1kW, that's the maximum you can get out of the area of your roof. You'd need more area to get more power.

Now, increase the efficiency by 80%, and you get 1.8kW out of that same area. Of course, if the price increases more than 80%, then you are coming out behind, because even though you get more power, it costs more.

The hope would be that you get 80% more power at something less than 50% higher cost.

Re:They are loosely related (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980244)

[quote]covering every square inch of your roof with solar panels gives you, let's say 1kW,[/quote]

assuming you live in an outhouse

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980016)

you can buy 400W panels today. They are huge however.

You can reduce the size by 80% and get the same amount out of them.

In effect this puts it into the reach of people covering the tops of their houses with them. Cost wise not so much.

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

Issarlk (1429361) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980322)

nope. you can reduce the size by 55%

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980326)

You can reduce the size by 80% and get the same amount out of them.

Really? And if they improve the efficiency by 100%, I don't need any solar cells at all to get the same power? (100% less!)
Actually, with 80% more efficient solar cells, you could reduce the size only by about 44% to get the same power.

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980062)

Moar efficiency == less material required. Same mfg cost & less material == less cost / watt. You do care!

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980064)

Sir, I get it that you must have a large roof...

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980198)

Efficiency does matter. It won't help you if someone invents solar cells which cost 1 cent per megawatt, but have an efficiency of 10^(-20) (yes, I can also make up ridiculous numbers :-)).

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

Xiterion (809456) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980210)

Actually, based on your statement you do care about the efficiency. It's just, I think, that your threshold for efficient enough is tied up in your projected use of the technology. What they are talking about is effectively doubling the wattage that can be collected from the dirt ass cheap solar cells. The base material in question is cadmium telluride [wikipedia.org] which can be produced cheaply enough to compete on a cost/watt basis with silicon based photovoltaics. What this researcher has done is shown a nearly factor of two improvement in what is already the most cost effective photovoltaic cell for large installations, which is a great big deal.

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980214)

how about... most of the products people use for that now? i love hearing people say "blah blah... doesn't work... to expensive..."

the panels on my mothers house, non subsidized, work great. the system on our church works great, as well. my new system will be making me money in less than six years... (that's total NET profit, btw)

so unless you live in a cave or in a building shaped like a giant pencil i don't understand why you hate the sun so loudly.

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980378)

so unless you live in a cave or in a building shaped like a giant pencil i don't understand why you hate the sun so loudly.

It's nuclear powered and produces lots of dangerous, cancer-causing radiation. :-)

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980822)

If I could get anything "solar" that would have a six-year payback I'd do it. Unfortunately, here in Arizona (plenty of sun!!) it looks like the best that can be done is 15-20 year payback with a cost of around $30K. That is absurd from my point of view. The house probably will not even exist in 20 years. The lifespan of the developments that were built around 2005 or so are going to be very, very limited and they might as well just plow everything back into farmland. Nobody's house is worth more than about 75% of the mortgage which means they pretty much can't be sold for another 25 years or so.

When the neighbors start leaving and abandoning their houses I'm probably going to go as well.

So putting up something with a 20 year payback is silly. Oh, and that is with the electric company and tax rebates paying half of the cost.

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980226)

"efficiency doesn't matter to me at all. "

To prove you wrong, I will quote... you.

"But show me one that is cheap enough to afford to cover my roof with "

That is Price / watt.

"that the end total wattage is enough to cover something close to my power use "

That is Watt / m^2.... also know as Efficiency.

As you have correctly, and incorrectly pointed out, efficiency does matter.

$/kWh determines market adoption.
Watt/m^2 (after market adoption) determines sales channels and installation sites.

-Rick

Re:STOP talking about efficiency, it doesn't matte (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980782)

Price per watt is the end user's opinion of usefulness. You cover your roof with cheap inefficient crap and pat yourself on the back for being "green". Yet these technologies have quite the carbon footprint involved in the manufacture of solar panels. When you take the efficiency into account you can potentially reduce this footprint. Some made up numbers for your understanding:

10x 1m^2 panels, producing 10kW consumes 10MW during manufacture, and costs $1000 per panel. vs
1x 1m^2 panel, producing 10kW, consumes 1MW during manufacture, and costs $10000 per panel.

In this scenario you break even but the environment and the amount of realestate you consume is far better off. Then you can really pat yourself on the back.

Can It Be Produced? (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#35979808)

If this product can be reliable and cheaply produced it will rock the world. I feel that it will likely be buried away from public use or view for many decades.

Will it blend? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980584)

I think the bigger question is...
Will It Blend?

Not the problem (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980028)

The problem with current Solar cells is not efficiency. Well, in a way it is of course, because every improvement helps along the economics.

The real problem is that the panels require a huge amount of energy to produce as they rely on highly refined materials. So much energy is required that it takes years or decades to break even.

Re:Not the problem (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980280)

The energy returned on energy invested is actually quite good. The issue is that the manufacturing process is so darn expensive that it isn't very economical at the moment. This is also why terrestrial applications rarely use the kind of solar cells that go on satellites. There are cells with close to 40% efficiency, they're just stupidly expensive.

Re:Not the problem (1)

wish bot (265150) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980350)

Actually, most solar systems have a 'carbon' (read energy + transport) payback period of about 1 year. It's really good tech, it's just a shame so many geeks are obsessed with nuclear and so buy into the whole bashing solar routine, so you hear this kind of rubbish everywhere.

Re:Not the problem (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980390)

Check out the Sahara Solar Breeder Project http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahara_Solar_Breeder_Project [wikipedia.org]

If you get enough of them, you can make the process self-sustaining energy-wise, even accounting for manufacturing the cells and panels.

Re:Not the problem (1)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980408)

*Citation needed*

After a quick google search:

"Crystalline silicon PV systems presently have energy pay-back times of 1.5-2 years for South-European locations and 2.7-3.5 years for Middle-European locations. The U.S. is less than 1.5 years currently."

"two years for a PV system with monocrystalline solar cells"

And the final one I looked at said 2-4 years with 10-30% of that coming from the energy it takes to make the FRAME you're using to mount the solar cells.

So it takes years yes, but decades? That's not even close to reality. Please try to look stuff up instead of blindly repeating memes.

d

Re:Not the problem (1)

i_b_don (1049110) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980490)

Sorry, let me also add this as a reference:

http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf [nrel.gov]

It's the one I felt was most unbiased (not done by a solar cell manufacturer for example.) It's done by the US department of energy.

d

OP needs an 80% boost in comprehension efficiency (1)

drdread (770953) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980102)

Please. Please. Please read the article and try to understand it before posting breathless announcements like this one. From the article, "With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials." This article announces a breakthrough in efficiency for this type of material. For reference, typical photovoltaic silicon cells run around 10-15% efficiency, and the world record is around 25% efficiency. Thus, the questions you should ask after reading this article are "so what," "why would I build a cell out of this material when conventional silicon beats the living crap out of it," "how do you plan to produce this on an industrial scale," "will this ever see the outside of your lab," and "you need some published articles in order to get promoted, don't you?"

Thank you! (1)

Radical Moderate (563286) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980312)

Since it's obviously too much work for the poster or editors to put TFA in context, I went to Wiki and pretty much learned what you posted. Oy.

So how far along would solar power be if... (1)

apparently (756613) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980104)

...Reagan didn't act like a petulant fucking child in 1986 when he tore down the White House's solar panels, and instead opted to invest in infrastructure and lead by example?
Granted, that might've delayed the booming 25 years of trickle down wealth we've all enjoyed, but perhaps it would've been worth it?

Read about this around 8 years ago... (1)

QJimbo (779370) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980110)

I read about this in a New Scientist Magazine a looong time ago. They blasted silicon with a laser to produce small cones on the surface, which sounds exactly like the "3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform" described here.

Like someone else said, when it hits the market, then I'm interested about hearing about this.

Yummy lovely toxic elements for only 3% efficiency (1)

cruff (171569) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980114)

According to the article, part of the cell is composed of cadmium telluride. Both are toxic and various compounds of tellurium stink to high heaven. I wonder what happens if the cells get caught in a fire?

Re:Yummy lovely toxic elements for only 3% efficie (2)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980362)

The cadmium telluride is 0.5 micrometers thin, so there isn't actually that much of it.

80% better isn't 80% efficient (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980186)

The article says 80% improvement ... so, if solar voltaic cells are 20% efficient, then 80% more brings that up to 36% efficient. That's a big deal, provided it doesn't cost 80% more, but it isn't 80% efficient. There are already solar cells with about 30% efficiency, but nobody buys them because they cost 100x more.
https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency [wikimedia.org]

Methinks the Anonymous submitter... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980314)

... is one of those Green cheerleaders who are fond of hyperbole, like Al Gore and the entirety of the IPCC.

Efficiency is not the issue (2)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980338)

There are multi-junction solar cells with a decent efficiency. That's teh kind that go on expensive sattelites. The problem is that such cells cost an arm and a leg so it is still cheaper to use the single-junction cells that get a much poorer efficiency. The kind of solar breakthroughs that might make photovoltaic competitive is reductions in the cost of teh manufacturing process. If you can find a cheap way to make the multi junction cells then the price per kWh will come down drastically.

Btw: The price per watt is useless as a metric because most of the time the cells don't give you their maximum power rating. What is interesting is the price per unit of energy averaged over a year. I.e $/kWh.

80% sounds good, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35980396)

When it's 3.2% efficient (compared to 1.8%), then it's not so impressive.

Didn't I read here? (1)

NormHome (99305) | more than 3 years ago | (#35980684)

Wasn't there some other article posted here a year or so ago about the problem of one photon equaling one electron being the problem and that someone had discovered something that created a cascade effect so that one photon could become more than one electron? When are we going to see that on the market?

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