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Innovative Use of Plastics Could Cheaply Double Solar Cell Output

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the hot-photon-on-plastic-action dept.

Science 141

doug141 writes "In standard solar cells, much energy is lost (as heat) from photons mismatched to the capability of silicon to capture them. A new technique uses a pentacene layer to down-convert each hot (un-captureable) electron to two electrons that can be captured by standard silicon cells." You can read more at the University of Texas research group's web page.

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Power companies (5, Interesting)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38410856)

It would be really interesting to see what happened if solar energy became affordable enough to power people's homes. Based on current technology, the cost of solar panels is several thousands of dollars for a typical home's electricity needs. Over the lifetime of the panels, that's about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, which is three times the cost of typical utility fees. I wonder if there would be resistance from power companies if people were able to put cheap solar panels on their houses, or if they would buy up all the patents so you had to buy your panels from them.

Re:Power companies (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38410888)

I wonder if there would be resistance from power companies if people were able to put cheap solar panels on their houses, or if they would buy up all the patents so you had to buy your panels from them.

They'd just institute daylight-based pricing. Use of electricity during the day = $0.05/kWh. Use of electricity an night = $0.50/kWh. Now you've got to solve the battery problem AND the solar panel problem.

Re:Power companies (5, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38410920)

The power companies won't mind if solar is used for large-draw things like daytime AC, when they themselves have to buy power at peak rates. They'd actually become more profitable with less demand.

The use for night-time heating is a solved problem - store the heat in something massive during daytime hours - you don't even need to take the losses from converting to electricity and back.

Re:Power companies (1)

Spoke (6112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411452)

The power companies won't mind if solar is used for large-draw things like daytime AC, when they themselves have to buy power at peak rates. They'd actually become more profitable with less demand.

Not quite. Most utilities are required to pass along energy rates directly without making any additional profit. They are only allowed to profit on the costs of building and maintaining the distribution network.

Profits themselves are also typically regulated to a percentage of their costs. So if they want to make more money, they have to justify additional expenses on distribution network.

Re:Power companies (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412188)

Regardless of what happens, you'd need smart networks, and in most cases that means a complete overhaul of the infrastructure.

Until some changes start from the very top, solar panels won't gain that much more popularity.

"Some changes" - yes (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413060)

The problem is "some changes". Which is somewhere between replacing all devices on the electrical network to support full bidirectional transmission, and replacing every last piece of transmission infrastructure we have. Ignoring that in practice we probably need to build a whole lot more in the process. In order to reach the transmission efficiency that most "solar is cheaper" systems depend on we'd need HVDC lines everywhere (not just plant -> homes, but every single location would need high capacity east and west uplinks, so we can have follow the sun(/wind) transmission, additionally we'd need lots of south -> north capacity), and superconducting transmission within cities.

We're apparently talking between $800 billion up to several trillion dollars. Most electricity networks are broke, more than a few are bankrupt.

The alternative is battery systems in every home (would still be massively less efficient, but it might actually work). That does mean however installing 200kg of (toxic) batteries (at least) every 2-4 years or so. Of course, this is never going to work north of some point. Not just Alaska. This would also actually cost more than the nationwide infrastructure, but it doesn't need to be paid by the government.

Hell, even Obama would think twice before building "some changes", even with other people's money.

Re:Power companies (4, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411212)

They'd just institute daylight-based pricing. Use of electricity during the day = $0.05/kWh. Use of electricity an night = $0.50/kWh. Now you've got to solve the battery problem AND the solar panel problem.

Nah, then all you need is batteries and a charging and inverter system. No solar panels at all. Because all you'd have to do is store electricity from the company during the day, and use it at night or when the power is down. Right now, there's no great price advantage to doing this, but the second the day and night prices diverge significantly, there would be. And THEN, if they caught on and changed it back, all you'd need to add would be panels. So this would be a very bad move for the power companies.

Re:Power companies (2)

nprz (1210658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411592)

Japan has a significant price difference between using electricity at night (11pm-7am) and during the day. Since usage is down at night, it is much cheaper, so people do things that might require a lot of electricity (e.g. washer, dish-washer).

But I doubt the price difference is enough for people to invest in the batteries & inverter system.

Re:Power companies (2)

jbengt (874751) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411650)

Use of electricity during the day = $0.05/kWh. Use of electricity an night = $0.50/kWh. Now you've got to solve the battery problem AND the solar panel problem.

Nah, then all you need is batteries and a charging and inverter system. No solar panels at all. Because all you'd have to do is store electricity from the company during the day, and use it at night or when the power is down. Right now, there's no great price advantage to doing this, but the second the day and night prices diverge significantly, there would be.

Hhmmm [nvenergy.com] , it seems those sorts of rates are already [portlandgeneral.com] in [comed.com] use [oru.com] .

Re:Power companies (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411720)

"No solar panels at all."

And how do you propose to capture the energy otherwise?

Re:Power companies (1)

drgould (24404) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412732)

Nah, then all you need is batteries and a charging and inverter system. No solar panels at all.

Similar to this guy [youtube.com] , except for him it's (much) cheaper at night.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412814)

http://hackaday.com/2011/11/17/whole-house-battery-backup-used-for-lower-power-bills/ There's this guy who is doing just that (with an eye out to install panels when he can afford them). Good writeup on how to do it, too!

Re:Power companies (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413200)

Yes, but in the long term batteries are more expensive than solar panels.
Personally I like the idea of panels and batteries combined to provide some sort of independance from the grid instead of just being a fairly inefficient way for power companies and governments to pretend they are being "green" (by giving a financial incentive to those with the panels). Whatever you get taken off the bill or even paid back is going to vary with the whim of whoever you are connected to.

Re:Power companies (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | more than 2 years ago | (#38414340)

would not be very useful for me where i live it is cloudy and rainy or fogy most of the year but the idea has marret . if only tesla and edison had not bee so apposed we would have dc power in our homes and every device would not need its own intagrated converter, but dc is bad for long distant transmission if only we had dc in home and ac betwen source and the power box on the house

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38414442)

Because all you'd have to do is store electricity from the company during the day, and use it at night or when the power is down.

Exactly, Buy at 5 cents sell back at 50 cents per? Oh yeah I can manage that... Add in solar and you could really game them. The price discrepancy would have to be fairly narrow for people not to do this...

Otherwise I could just buy a bank of batteries and skip the solar all together to cover my cost...

Re:Power companies (1)

R.Mo_Robert (737913) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411222)

They'd just institute daylight-based pricing. Use of electricity during the day = $0.05/kWh. Use of electricity an night = $0.50/kWh. Now you've got to solve the battery problem AND the solar panel problem.

Would this really work? How do mostly- or all-solar homes work? I'm only familiar with smaller setups, and most of them don't directly power the house; they charge a battery that will then be used (usually with a DC-to-AC inverter) to power things later--e.g., at night, so the higher fee then will actually work out in the customer's favor.

Re:Power companies (4, Informative)

kkwst2 (992504) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411480)

Now many states have have laws requiring essentially that the power company buy or give you credit for anything you produce. So you get the panels installed and apply for a two way meter from the electric company. They keep track of how much you produce and subtract it off your consumption essentially.

Furthermore, some states require utility companies to use so much power from solar, and this is done essentially by buying credits from people making solar. So in NJ if I have 10 kW worth of panels I might generate enough credits in a year to sell for $6000. It is essentially the state dictating that the power company has to pay me money for making solar energy. That is on top of the savings you get from using less electricity.

So with federal rebates, a 10 kw system costs around $35k to $40k to install. But with the credits and electricity savings, it will "pay for itself" in 5 years or so.

In NJ this fell apart a little bit because everyone saw it was a good deal and there is now an oversupply of these credits, so the value of the credits are less than half of what they were last year. Time will tell how it all shakes out. If I got no money for the credits, the panels should pay for themselves in 20 years. So it will be somewhere between a ton of free money and a marginal investment.

Re:Power companies (2)

onepoint (301486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411626)

Interesting that the credit is trade-able. In Florida, the net meter rules don't give you the option of trading your credits with a debit account. Also FPL ( florida power and light ) have limited the amount of KW you can produce at any given moment and pump into the system to 5KW due to line issues ( until they upgrade, that's the peak you can provide )

I find that Florida (of all places ) is the unfriendliest when it comes to solar power. If Florida got it's act together, it could help produce and supply and export energy.

Re:Power companies (3, Informative)

The Askylist (2488908) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412182)

It's not tradeable in the UK, either - what we have here is called a "feed-in tariff", which is a government set price per KWh that is paid for a fixed period.

The UK solar "industry" (read: the hucksters who jumped on this money tree when it first came in) are now bleating because the FIT has been halved (though it's still 30 cents or more per KWh), and their business model is no longer profitable.

Would be so much better if there was a market in the tariffs, and the solar option could then grow at a sensible rate.

Re:Power companies (1)

SpockLogic (1256972) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413116)

I find that Florida (of all places ) is the unfriendliest when it comes to solar power. If Florida got it's act together, it could help produce and supply and export energy.

Don't hold your breath. The Sunshine State is screwed with a crooked pencil necked cue-ball in the governors mansion.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38413846)

"Now many states have have laws requiring essentially that the power company buy or give you credit for anything you produce."

And unfortunately power companies who don't home power generation have already found ways of not complying. I recall some stories from people in the NE United States where there were such laws, the power companies who didn't like renewables usually took one of two courses. They either claimed that allowing renewable energy feeding back into their grid would destabilize it or they required the safety device that prevented the solar panels from feeding power back into the grid when the lines were down to be purchased from them, at a massively marked up price.

Re:Power companies (5, Informative)

CarlDenny (415322) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411446)

That's an insanely ignorant suggestion.

That would incentivize people to move their power usage from off-peak times to on-peak times, forcing power companies to build *more* capacity for on-peak utilization. The pricing you describe is the *exact opposite* of the actual economy of the power industry, and any company that tried it would end up out of business.

The fact that solar only generates during the day makes is a boon for power companies, it prevents them from having to build expensive plants for peak production while leaving lots of profits in providing baseline power with existing investments.

Re:Power companies (-1, Troll)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412670)

You think it is ignorant but it is in reality a good solution.
Come back when you understand power.

Re:Power companies (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412802)

Actually, if this works, we should probably cut the gov. support for Solar and instead, move the money to energy storage. It could be as simple as car batteries, but it could also be thermal storage which would then go into coal plants that are being shut down.

Re:Power companies (1)

FairAndHateful (2522378) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412398)

I wonder if there would be resistance from power companies if people were able to put cheap solar panels on their houses, or if they would buy up all the patents so you had to buy your panels from them.

They'd just institute daylight-based pricing. Use of electricity during the day = $0.05/kWh. Use of electricity an night = $0.50/kWh. Now you've got to solve the battery problem AND the solar panel problem.

I think you've got this backwards... Most power usage is during the day, so if people's homes had a modest solar panel, the power companies would be able to generate a more even level of power 24 hours a day, meaning less of a need for reserve capacity. Also, in places that charge variable rates, currently they charge less at night, there's no reason to expect that to change. You know, obligatory wiki link [wikipedia.org]

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412406)

Considering that peak demand (and highest energy prices) are currently during the day (when all of the manufacturing plants are gobbling up the electricity and when all of the AC units are going full blast) we would have to put in a LOT of solar panels to shift it the other way.

Re:Power companies (2)

mlts (1038732) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413958)

The battery problem is solvable with a boring, low-tech solution: Flywheels. With magnetic bearings, they don't require that much maintenance, and barring physical damage, are harder to kill than batteries. If you drain a conventional battery to 0 volts repeatedly, it will die. Drain a flywheel to 0 RPM... and it just stops.

Batteries are important for research for portable energy storage, such as cars and such. However, where large flywheels can be built they are the best tool for the job, until battery energy density puts physical storage of kinetic energy in the dust.

Re:Power companies (4, Interesting)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#38410926)

Three times the cost of typical, maybe, but it still makes sense in certain places.

Hawaii [heco.com] , for example, has a typical 30c rate. The bigger issue is that most of the locals can't afford the capital to do the installation in the first place.

Re:Power companies (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411018)

As usual, the faggot naysayers take the lead on an article. Instead of looking at the science they play the politics. Probably because these fucking cunts don't know the science. Slashdot is pathetic.

Re:Power companies (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411200)

Energy companies are investing in the research into solar so they most likely would already own some patents. They will license patents from research groups as well. The nice thing about patents is they still expire but that may change in the near future to follow the path of copyright.

That would be the true evil but it takes government to do that.

Re:Power companies (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411274)

Solar passed "grid parity" in many parts of Australia last year - that is, even without the most recent developments, the whole-of-life price on a per-kWh basis is now below the power company price. It's no longer the cost of the electricity; it's the up-front capital that gets in the way.

Re:Power companies (2)

fnj (64210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412300)

Er, the "cost of the electricity" from photovoltaic panels *IS* nothing but the amortization of the "up-front capital." Google "present value" some time.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412458)

But it isn't with coal. So you have to somehow get more of the capital up-front. Also, there is higher risk because you are "buying" all of those kWh up front. So if the price-per-kWh drops significantly, you will just have to produce the power at a "loss" for the solar power plant for the life of the plant. With coal, a significant portion of the cost is the fuel, so if the price drops significantly you can shut down the plant and take a "loss" on the capital, but it will be less than it would be for the solar plant.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412888)

And for up-front capital, we already have a solution. It's called a credit union or bank. If banks/credit unions aren't already issuing loans for solar in .au, some folks need to get together to write a really solid business plan, where the math is all laid out.

Re:Power companies (1)

englishknnigits (1568303) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411314)

Perhaps they would switch to focusing on power distribution instead of generation. Solar panels might not provide enough power for spikes in a homes energy usage. Homes that are currently generating more power than they need could help power homes that are currently in a spike. The power companies could facilitate, monitor, and compensate homes (while taking a cut off the top) for their deficit/surplus power. Power companies also may need to help provide power throughout the night. I realize this is basically what power companies already do...just saying this might be their new focus.

Re:Power companies (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413236)

Yes, distribution used to be really difficult until about the 1970s.
It also helps that the peaks are in daylight.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411716)

Maybe. At one time I thought that there was always a greater need for power than there were means of providing that power, and so any motive on the part of the customer at providing their own energy solutions would not be shunned, but rather, embraced (or at least tolerated). Over time, I have come to understand that this is not the case. Lower demand for power means lower revenue for power companies. Its not about providing a solution to a need for them, its about maximizing profit. Power companies actively lobby governments against allowing private solar solutions. They might put up their own solar arrays to appear 'green', and if an individual goes completely 'off grid', that's OK (tolerated), but if that individual had excess capacity and attempted to put power *into* the grid, the power companies go ballistic. You can totally forget about getting paid for the electricity you provide them. They will accept your electricity reluctantly, but would rather have you *pay* to put power onto their grid. In some countries (Germany), they encourage private local energy suppliers. In much of North America, radicals attempting to subvert the national energy grid in that way are treated as terrorists, and if the energy companies don't treat you as a criminal (through the courts) they will cut you from their grid and leave you to put your electricity in a bucket to give to your neighbor. If you put your own lines to your neighbor, there is no guarantee the power company won't come along and cut those lines in the name of safety, or right of way, or any other excuse they can create. Electricity generation is operated on a monopoly basis, much like OPEC.

Re:Power companies (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411770)

It already is. I can buy 5KW worth of solar for under $30,000. coupled with changing energy consumption to reasonable levels and having a home that is not a giant screen door for heat like most american homes, one can spend the price of a single mid sized car to go off the grid.

$30K is dirt cheap for that (complete with intertie inverter and battery storage) Most new homes built waste more on marble countertops and other stupidity like too large of a sq footage.

A reasonable sized 1500 sq foot home built by an archetict that actually knows what he/she is doing can be 100% solar with heat and electric in a climate as far north as 45deg latitude and cost the same as a current stupid sized house.

It's already there, Problem is people prefer 3 car garages, 5 bedrooms, 2900 sq foot with cathedral ceilings, marble counters and giant front yards to sane sized homes that are at least energy star in insulation and with near zero costs for Heat, AC and electricity.

Re:Power companies (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411892)

I paid just paid $6k for a 2.5/3.6KW off grid (but UL certifiable) system, grid tie would have been about $1000 less. Sunelec is selling 5kw systems for $12k.

I can easily run my entire house sans heating and cooling with a 3kw grid tie system (about $5k).

Re:Power companies (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413138)

Was that installed? or just parts. i am talking completely installed by overpaid electricians. The customer will need to know nothing at all.

Re:Power companies (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38414286)

If your local utility yield 5% dividends (many do) and your total power bill is $1500/yr or less, then you can just buy $30,000 worth of utility shares.

Unlike the panels, the shares stand a good chance of appreciating in value.

YMMV. Your panels might be insured as part of your homeowner's policy. With the shares, you need might want to start out doing option collars and reinvest some dividends until your shares are essentially "free" because they all come from reinvested dividends.

Before plunking on panels, do the math every way possible. There could be incentives for the panels, the ability to deduct them, and many other factors. Some combination of buying panels and investing in the utility might prove best.

As for me, I'm in an apartment so investing in the ute is my only option. $36k worth of ute shares turned out to be more than I needed.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412402)

> It would be really interesting to see what happened if solar energy became affordable enough to power people's homes.

It would really be interesting if people were honest about wanting human development and not amassing money in the first place. Then we would already have cheap solar energy on many homes (with or without supplement from powr companies).

That would benefit the citizens, surely, but it would also make the country less vulnerable to outages (accidental or intentional).

> I wonder if there would be resistance from power companies if people were able to put cheap solar panels on their houses, or if they would buy up all the patents so you had to buy your panels from them.

There should be a law against that. Someone would end up in jail if acting or conspiring to prevent well-being of a person or group.

Alas, there should be a law forcing the government to care about the people.

You may think this is too childish a way of thinking, but there was a simpler time when people were more authentic and such things were taken for granted. It used to be a great scandal when things didn't work that way.

Re:Power companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412630)

FYI you are off (over) by about 50%. Get with the times. 75-80% if you include state/federal subsidies

Re:Power companies (1)

thejaq (2495514) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412698)

Dude get with the times. Panels can be had for ~$1.00/pW in bulk and there are 10s of GW in the global utility scale pipeline at $4.00/pW and even $3.00/pW. That yields 0.9 - 0.12 $/kWh in the sunbelt without tracking and without subsidies... There has been a cost revolution that no one noticed because the economy sticks and for the last ~4 yrs net energy consumption has decreased or remained stagnant.

Re:Power companies (1)

hairyfish (1653411) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412912)

It would be really interesting to see what happened if solar energy became affordable enough to power people's homes. Based on current technology, the cost of solar panels is several thousands of dollars for a typical home's electricity needs. Over the lifetime of the panels, that's about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, which is three times the cost of typical utility fees.

I pay 20.6c/kwh for electricity (Australia) A suitably sized solar system to cover my needs would pay itself off in 10 years (3kw solar system quoted for $10k), then it's free energy.

I wonder if there would be resistance from power companies if people were able to put cheap solar panels on their houses, or if they would buy up all the patents so you had to buy your panels from them.

Ah the old suppressed tech conspiracy theory. If solar panels were cheap enough to go mass market then the people holding the patents would be making more money than the power companies.

Re:Power companies (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413490)

They recently raised our water bill by 30%. Their excuse was the success of water conservation efforts. They bill based on usage, and since usage went down and yet they had the same infrastructure to support they had to raise rates. I'm not shitting you, that really happened. I'd also like to mention at this point that I live next to one of the largest freshwater seas in the world. So the need for water conservation was rather questionable in the first place.

Re:Power companies (2)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38414246)

"Over the lifetime of the panels, that's about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, which is three times the cost of typical utility fees."

[citation needed]

I'm not sure how you arrived at that number.

You can get grid-tie kits around 9KW for less than $20K. Double that for installation, to be generous. That's $40K, before Fed and State incentives. But for the sake of argument, let's leave those out. The 9KW system provides enough power to cancel out the electrical usage of the average US home (958 KWh/month see http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs [eia.gov] ).

The typical rated lifespan of solar panels is 25 years. But again, lets be generous and say it is only 20 years. So $40K over 20 years for an average monthly electrical usage of 958 KWh/month (see http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs [eia.gov] ) works out to 17 cents per KWh.

That's before any incentives were thrown in. You get a 30% federal tax credit for solar panel installations, so that $40K is now $28K, dropping the 20 year rate down to about 12 cents per KWh. Numerous states offer additional incentives which can bring the price even lower. And these rates won't go up over time like electric rates will.

Maybe 10 years ago you numbers were correct, but that certainly isn't the case anymore. In fact, if you live in the sunny areas of the country you can get average KWh prices down into the single digits using solar.

Improving solar cells (4, Insightful)

JohnWiney (656829) | more than 2 years ago | (#38410956)

Slashdot seems to post a lot of stories about improved solar cells, but solar cells never seem to improve.

Re:Improving solar cells (4, Informative)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411028)

Sure they do [wikipedia.org] .

There are two problems though:

1. That somebody in a lab figured out a way to make a cell 15% more efficient doesn't mean it's going to be manufactured tomorrow.

2. 15% more efficient means "15% more efficient than what we started with". This means "We took a cell that coverts 15% of the Sun's energy into electricity and made it covert 17.5%", not 30% as people seem to expect.

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411252)

Yeah... but... notice that is *research* cell efficiencies. Where's the chart for cells you can BUY? Price against watts output would be most interesting, followed by watts output against square area.

We're all well aware that research is announced all the time with fabulous tales of benefits. What we're grinching about is the inability buy such a thing cost-effectively -- and have it not turn into silicon splinters in the first hailstorm, or lose most of its efficiency in the first few years on the roof.

Re:Improving solar cells (2, Informative)

rhakka (224319) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411322)

the cost of solar has been reducing quickly.

I quoted a twice, from the same company, 1 year apart. the second quote added almost 30% capacity for the same price, after only 1 year.

times they are a'changing.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412276)

Sure they do [wikipedia.org] .

There are two problems though:

1. That somebody in a lab figured out a way to make a cell 15% more efficient doesn't mean it's going to be manufactured tomorrow.

2. 15% more efficient means "15% more efficient than what we started with". This means "We took a cell that coverts 15% of the Sun's energy into electricity and made it covert 17.5%", not 30% as people seem to expect.

3. Marketing types and news agencies intentionally phrase their statements to make it sound like the increase is 30%. Or even worse don't understand what the engineers have told them. For example, I understand that you meant 15% of the energy from the sun that contacts the panel is converted into electricity. However what you stated was:""We took a cell that coverts 15% of the Sun's energy into electricity". For this to be true, you'd probably need to construct a Dyson's sphere.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

Shaiku (1045292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412608)

It gets even better than that -- this article claims that this technique can double the output of solar cells. According to the summary however,

if you have X electrons that can be captured, then you have Y electrons that are too hot to be captured. This technique takes Y and splits it into two X-type electrons, both of which can be captured.

Before: Your output is energy from X electrons

After: Your output is energy from X + 2Y electrons.

They claim now that X + 2Y = 2X, which only happens when Y = X/2. But what if your Y value happens to be much lower than that--say Y = X/8. Then output would be X + X/4 which is not equal to 2X....

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411066)

"Slashdot seems to post a lot of stories about improved solar cells, but solar cells never seem to improve."

Slashdot is ENTERTAINMENT, and hearing about tech that (might) pan out is interesting even though it isn't really useful information early on.

Re:Improving solar cells (4, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411072)

Slashdot seems to post a lot of stories about improved solar cells, but solar cells never seem to improve.

True, but only if you define a double-digit percentage drop in unit price every year as "not improving".

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411158)

What he said too...

The cost of an installation hasn't dropped much (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38414032)

Perhaps people are trying to reduce the price of the wrong thing.
 

Re:Improving solar cells (3, Interesting)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411156)

Only if you don't count the fact that (for example) Sanyo/Panasonic HIT panels are good enough that even on my tiny roof I sufficiently overproduce so as to be carbon neutral for all primary energy, and that for now my effective energy bills are zero too. Oh, no, no improvement.

Rgds

Damon

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412852)

And precisely how is that an improvement? Did you have insufficient panels before? Did you upgrade and improve output? Or are you being a wanker prattling on about your system?

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413482)

Are you being an idiot trolling as AC?

For the record, if there had not been a dramatic improvement in efficiency up until the time I did the install then I would not have been able to achieve that output. The clue is in the words.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413260)

Link please.

What panels did you buy, when, for how much, and who installed?

solar cells are MUCH cheaper today (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411164)

Solar panels have fallen significantly in price. Instead of being laughably expensive for electricity, they are now just pretty expensive. The need of structures to hold solar panels, power electronics and wiring remains unchanged.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411186)

This is an improvement on the efficiency of traditional silicon cells, which are the low end of solar cells. This discovery won't make cells that are more efficient than the top ones, but would help making reasonably efficient cells that are affordable to the masses. While solar plants would be a far more efficient way, governments don't seem to back them up, so affordable solar cells could be another way to increase renewable energy use.

Re:Improving solar cells (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411188)

It's improving.. little by little..

Actually compared to other "far off" technologies, solar is making surprising progress. I check on it every year or so, and while it's still not practical for my purposes yet.. there is definite real world "in stores now" improvement, as well as exciting stuff being done in labs.

Re:Improving solar cells (2)

youn (1516637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411234)

Why is this modded troll? It is actually quite insightful.

Pardon my ignorance but I regularly see articles speaking of a material that could double, triple... sometimes more collected energy potential... what does this really mean? compared to what? can these innovations be combined? what does it mean for the general public? Yes, these articles sound cool, yes we all want to be able to tap the potential of free energy... but if solar cells had improved that much, we'd all be running on free energy.

To be fair, there has been improvements... just not as much as is touted in the articles

Re:Improving solar cells (2)

thejaq (2495514) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412744)

The boom (70% decline in solar prices) has coincided with global recession. Energy use has declined or remained stagnant. Hence no solar demand (or any demand). Massive oversupply as China scales up production. Yet still, the pipeline for solar and wind exceeds fossil fuels everywhere except China. Give them until 2015. The future is already set in stone.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411248)

At least it's a change from Display Tech. of the Week.

Re:Improving solar cells (1)

mathmathrevolution (813581) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411316)

Slashdotters seem to be vigilant about confronting ignoramuses with actual facts, but the number of misinformed bullshit comments like yours never seems to improve.

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

hpinsider (2468002) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411932)

It doesn't matter if they do improve. They can't come close to power generated from natural gas, coal, or nuclear. And this is why.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics [wikipedia.org] It's been covered several times but these green trolls seem to forget...

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412574)

What are you talking about??? Your link seems to disprove most of your point. All of the potential energy of fossil fuels originally came from the sun (from plants through photosynthesis storing carbon and hydrogen for energy). So, by the second law, there is less entropy from every energy change. So, instead of going from Sun->plants->time/pressure->burn in power plant->electricity, you go from Sun->electricity. You should actually be able to get A LOT more energy on a sustainable basis from solar panels than from fossil fuels. Nuclear does not fit into my argument, but your argument does not make sense so I cannot refute what you are trying to say.

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412970)

You should actually be able to get A LOT more energy on a sustainable basis from solar panels than from fossil fuels.

This is always my key argument, there just not enough fossil fuel resources to give everyone a middle class life, even without considering the environmental issues. Also competition for the remaining fossil fuels, oil, coal, rights to emit CO2 is going to drive up the price as well. There is enough solar, and that is the only thing there is enough of.

Really the opposition to the switch over comes from two sources, typical emo's, same type of people my grandmother talked about who thought that airplanes were a useless fad. These people also hate high speed rail and hybrid electric cars. The second set who are spending much to egg on the former are corporations and countries that own or control fossil fuel resources. My take on this is that it would have nice to have invested more earlier, but the dice cast if you look at the percentage of power coming on line from various sources.

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38413282)

Hpinsider has more enthusiasm than appreciation for thermodynamics.

It's mistakenly assumed to be exploiting a smaller difference in entropy, when something takes more initial effort. Solar panels produce energy directly from solar radiation, hydrocarbons like coal are millions of years worth of trapped solar radiation. It's always quicker to release stored energy than to produce it. Comparing them, is like comparing an apple seed to a truckload of applesauce.

A small percentage of all the solar energy bombarding the Earth, stored over millions of years is what we're using as fuel. Solar panels can only completely replace that with considerable effort and it is definitely impractical, but there's nothing theoretically impossible about doing it. Impractical, is just another way of saying, "There's no benefit at present time.". So called green trolls merely ignore practicality (and they blame modern civilization for everything, everywhere).

Radioisotopes are the result of other stars, which went supernova a long time before our sun even existed, spewing heavy elements throughout the universe. They represent a fraction of trapped energy from those stars. Considering how tremendous even a tiny fraction of a star is, that's a lot. But, solar panels still have a greater potential for thermodynamic efficiency than nuclear power because, like pointed out, there's fewer conversions involved (fewer potential losses). The total radiation from a star is vastly more energy than what gets trapped in its eventual radioisotope yield.

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412184)

Guys, it's not insightful if it's not true, ok?

Re:Improving solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412526)

And for every story there is someone who posts EXACTLY this statement and without fail, every time, they are completely wrong.

You would think that as many stories and comments posted which rebuff this exact, ignorant comment, you might have bothered to actually read and learn before you post. Oh ya, this slashdot, home of the retards who love to post dumb shit and refuse to learn anything and yet will post about shit which is obvious they have no fucking clue in spite of the fact they absolutely should.

Seriously, if you're going to negatively comment about past stories on a given topic, perhaps you should actively bother to READ some of those comments. Perhaps then, dumb people like you won't manage to waste everyone's time, not to mention moderation points. And the fact moderators modded you up only proves how completely fucking dumb and clueless the moderation population is these days. Holy shit...

Its official now, the slashdot population is now jealous of the intelligence of a collective bag of hammers.

Re:Improving solar cells (2)

evilviper (135110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412876)

With so glib an interpretation, I can see why you don't understand...

Sometimes the stories about solar panel improvements on /. are about consumer cells, but often they aren't... they might be about the high efficiency solar cells used in satellites.

There seems to be one very simple underlying theme on solar panels across the board... there is no shortage of space. While improvements in efficiency are great, and will see some use, mostly people want the cheapest solaar panels they can get, and don't care that they're 2% efficient, because their roof is big enough, and that (hypotetical) 2% efficiency isn't a bad thing because the fuel in question is free, anyhow.

  Many claim the be cheap, but that's usually an estimate of a price at full-scale production, compared to buying more cells at current prices. In the interim, the cost of those cells goes down, and production can't go from 0 to 100 instantly, so the combination of the two conspire to make the new technology stillborn. The technology here might go the same way, or it might really be dirt cheap enough and close enough to ready to roll out that it'll be the exception to the rule. Take your pick, and become an angel investor if you think you've got all the answers.

Here we go again (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38410980)

Yet another solar energy claim. One that will not be available for a decade, and when actually monitored, will never actually materialize.

There is no cost effective solution to our indulgent (US + West) power consumption. We will not drop our living standards, but will demand poorer countries stop trying attain the same standard as ourselves. Coal, oil, coal, burn baby, burn.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411096)

The economy is going to force us to change our lifestyles in more drastic ways soon enough.

Pentacene (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411034)

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentacene

It turns out that Pentacene breaks down on exposure to air and light.

Which means that more reasearch in this direction will be needed in order to have a practical use for this discovery.

Re:Pentacene (1)

Guppy (12314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411190)

Pentacene

I was thinking the same thing, organic substrates are so fragile. The lifespan problems involved are very much like those encountered in OLED material development, except even worse (due to the harsher usage conditions).

Re:Pentacene (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412164)

Fuller Wikipedia quote:

The compound generates excitons upon absorption of ultra-violet (UV) or visible light; this makes it very sensitive to oxidation. For this reason, this compound, which is a purple powder, slowly degrades upon exposure to air and light.

If I'm understanding this correctly, it means that exposure to both light and oxygen is necessary for it to break down. So, just cover it with a protective layer of something and it should remain stable. Preventing oxidation with oxygen would seem to be essential to the process anyway, as you want the electrons to go into...whatever the conductor is, not the air. (The summary suggests the conductor is a silicon solar panel, but TFA sounds more like the pentacene might be the sole PV compound.)

The Tipping Point (1)

Bob Gortician (246811) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411040)

By now, solar is cheaper than the electric company, all other things being equal. Of course, they never are. It's a tough sell here in sunny Texas, even though there is a ton of grant money flying around, currently. Five days of no sun in a row is probably not helping things. But install in the winter, save money in the spring and summer. Opportunity for forward thinkers, no doubt.

Get my free Hitchhiker's Guide Tribute Novella:

cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411202)

Will they cost twice as much?

Even if solar panels last 20 years, the technology seems to be improving every 6 months or so making the value drop at the rate computers do. Who knows where solar panel technology will be in 20 years. I wonder how many people are waiting on buying solar because every few months another story comes out about great improvements.

Vindicated (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411264)

This effect has been known theoretically for quite a while, and experimentally for a few years at least. Look up the literature on "singlet fission" or "multiexciton generation." The process works by photon excitation to a singlet excited state, followed by the reversion of that excited state into 2 triplet excited states with roughly half the energy. Thus the extra energy that would normally be lost as heat can go into exciting another photoelectron. The neat thing about this paper is that, for the first time, the researchers were actually able to show a >100% photoelectron generation, meaning that they got more electrons out than photons that they put in. This is a huge vindication to this direction of research, which has recently been seeing quite a bit of skepticism as to its legitimacy (since not having greater than 100% photoelectron generation can be explained away by other possibly competing processes, but the result from Zhu's lab pretty much nukes those competing theories).

Re:Vindicated (2)

deroby (568773) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411662)

Man, when I started reading your comment I was close to adding ".. but I simply reconfigured the Heisenberg Modulators so the deflector shield now tripled the opticron conversion rate so its alignment is now in conflusion with the beta-cronicles defrigilator....
Glad it started make sense after the third sentence =)

Re:Vindicated (1)

kronnek (982486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38411956)

Man, when I started reading your comment I was close to adding ".. but I simply reconfigured the Heisenberg Modulators so the deflector shield now tripled the opticron conversion rate so its alignment is now in conflusion with the beta-cronicles defrigilator.... Glad it started make sense after the third sentence =)

Heisenberg compensators, compensators... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transporter_(Star_Trek) [wikipedia.org]

cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411378)

The battle for solar panels is not performance but entry cost

Incredible! (but not true) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411456)

As written, the summary would be announcing the most spectacular physics discovery in a century. Charge conservation fails! Too bad it's not what was meant: s/electron/photon/ .

If I add up all the improvements we heard about... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38411602)

...we should be at 344% efficiency by now, and be able to print them in every household for a couple of cents a m^2.

Seriously, I remember one saying they got to 43% efficiency, and after that at least 3 different technologies promising a doubling in efficiency. Plus two saying they could print it with a normal printer, bringing the cost down to a couple of cents.

DO WANT! Please. Can at least one of them be real?
I want to use our awesome giant fusion reactor in the sky! (Seriously, is there anything more awesome as a power source, than a star?)

Oil is too important (3, Interesting)

plopez (54068) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412396)

to waste as fuel.

Where will this tech go? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412712)

Seriously, where will it be installed at? Will it be licensed to American companies (where we have paid for this R&D), or will it go to China?

Re:Where will this tech go? (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413344)

Seriously, where will it be installed at? Will it be licensed to American companies (where we have paid for this R&D), or will it go to China?

Well, there are two options: They'll either manufacture it in China, or they'll restrict manufacture to the US, and the resulting product will sit unsold on the shelf while everyone buys the cheaper Chinese-made panels instead.

fago8z (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38412766)

Thing for the Www.anti-slash.org How is the GNNA See. The number Conducted at MIT in time. For all Has been 8y only guests. Some people

A lost opportunity (3, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38412886)

We use FIT and other means of subsidies to drive solar and wind, but ignore other solutions. However, in just about every single case, it is a retrofit, which is expensive. But, there is a simple solution for all of this.

America, or even states, could require that all new homes and buildings under 4 stories, have 50% or possibly 100% of their HVAC (heating and AC required) come from on-site AE. This would actually encourage several things:
1) a number of contractors will simply throw up solar panels equal to the amount.
2) a number of other contractors would heavily insulate and drop the energy needs to the point, where a MINIMAL amount of AE is needed.
3) a number would try something like geo-thermal HVAC combined with 2 to allow them to drop it to one panel.

Basically, by adding this requirement, it would change the NEW buildings and separate them from the old ones. Considering the number of foreclosures that we have now, the last thing that we really need are new buildings that compete with many of these foreclosed buildings. At the same time, it pushes various AE without loads of incentives, while allowing contractor to move to whatever direction is economical and will sell.

Re:A lost opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38413046)

I don't mean to troll, but the response to requiring that would evoke the following instantaneous knee-jerk response from uninformed members of the public and Congress: "ZOMG REQUIRE GREEN COMMIE ENERGY? WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA?"

The idea of government "requiring" anything that is different from current SOP, even if that change would be cheaper and more efficient in the long run, is abhorrent to some of the more rabid the free market advocates, and these days, the rabid of each side control the debate (hence that Bachmann can be a legitimate candidate).

Re:A lost opportunity (0)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413322)

America, or even states, could require that all new homes and buildings under 4 stories, have 50% or possibly 100% of their HVAC (heating and AC required) come from on-site AE. This would actually encourage several things:

Don't forget

4) Republicans would scream about this being part of the imminent arrival of the (Orwellian Socialist Nightmare / Nanny State / Muslim Antichrist / Boogie Monster) and demand (and probably get) the immediate repeal of the law to preserve Our Freedoms (tm).

Re:A lost opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38413362)

Indeed. Who wants to loose their God-given 'freedom to be enslaved to a middle eastern cartel' ?

Freeways (2)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38413188)

I'd still like to see all freeways lined on either side and in the middle with PV panels. Even better would be to put salt beds under to store the energy.

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