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Swiss Federal Lab Claims New World Record For Solar Cell Efficiency

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the here-comes-the-sun dept.

Power 177

Zothecula writes "Scientists based at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have set a new efficiency record for thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenid (or CIGS) based solar cells on flexible polymer foils, reaching an efficiency of 20.4 percent. This is an increase from a previous record of 18.7 percent set by the team back in 2011."

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Crap (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649137)

And yet still horribly inefficient.

Re:Crap (4, Insightful)

Stormthirst (66538) | about 2 years ago | (#42649187)

As opposed to the really efficient gasoline engine. Oh wait - that's only 25% to 30% efficient, and doesn't fuck up the air you breath.

Re:Crap (4, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649249)

Not only are gasoline engines inefficient, they require fuel be trucked to stations wasting even more fuel.

Transmission losses like that just make it even worse.

Re:Crap (0)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 years ago | (#42649549)

What about the transmission losses from the Sun to the Earth? /duck

Re:Crap (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650379)

Minimal. The loss in a vacuum is inconsequential. The real problem is the way the sun is releasing so much uncaptured energy in all directions.

That's a waste.

Re:Crap (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#42649251)

Good luck driving to work in a solar-powered car.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649273)

Tesla S, Nissan Leaf, and the Mitsubishi Miev seem to work just fine if you really want a solar powered car.

Re:Crap (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#42649433)

And typically get most of their power from coal.

You could stick a couple of square meters of solar panels on a typical car, which at 20% efficiency would give you about 240W on a sunny day. For a half-hour commute (fifteen minutes each way) and eight hours in the car park, that would give you about five horsepower if the battery is 100% efficient and you didn't need to use any other electrical items, like AC or headlights.

So it's potentially possible, but would be a really crappy drive.

Re:Crap (4, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 2 years ago | (#42649491)

I calculated that my daily commute would requite 3 kWp of panels if the end-to-end efficiency was 75% - which is what Tesla claims for the Model S. 3 kW of panels is 12 panels. That easily fits on my garage roof. This isn't as insane as it sounds.

Re:Crap (-1)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#42649511)

Which would be great, if you leave your car in the garage all day. Most of us drive around, so if the panels aren't on the car to keep it charged they're utterly useless to us.

Re:Crap (3, Insightful)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 2 years ago | (#42649547)

Which would be great, if you leave your car in the garage all day. Most of us drive around, so if the panels aren't on the car to keep it charged they're utterly useless to us.

I can't decide whether this was a joke or not. For the benefit of those who might not take it that way, I'll point out that these cars have batteries that allow them to collect energy from their garages and (gasp!) drive around with it.

Re:Crap (2, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649565)

Are you mentally handicapped?

You could either store the power in batteries or sell it to the grid and buy back power later when you need it. If you are not suffering some sort of mental deficiency that should have been as obvious as the car not being the ideal place to put the solar cells.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42651231)

And when the electric vehicles become more popular you will probably see some of those huge parking lots being covered with solar cells. And there you have it a parking lot solar farm. :-)
 

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649827)

Yeah and I suppose you never park the car in the garage for extended periods of time either. You just park in the fucking pool, right?

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650373)

What an astounding troll.

This may work at family gatherings to make that one guy (you know who I'm talking about) who your city niece married look like a fool any time he's stupid enough to bring up the subject of non-fossil fuel energy, but seriously? On a geek website?

Oh wait, what am I kidding. This is Slashdot. I come here for comments like yours that make me realize day after day that I really ought to consider taking Fox News' advice and moving to the socialist utopia that is Europe. I swear I get more liberal the older I get.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42651039)

On a geek website?

We're not really the geek website you think we are. We used to be, but most of the really smart, and really educated, have moved on. I just wish I knew to where...

Re:Crap (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#42649525)

If the input is virtually inexhaustible (sunlight), it doesn't matter how efficient it is. If you have half the efficiency, just double the solar panel area. Total cost per kW and per kWh becomes is more important. Mind you, the panels *don't* need to be on the car.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649783)

If the input is virtually inexhaustible (sunlight), it doesn't matter how efficient it is. If you have half the efficiency, just double the solar panel area.

Oh yes it does. If you actually sit down and DO the math, even if you covered the US with solar panels you cannot cover US yearly electrical requirements.

Think about it this way: if you put down 1 billion solar panels that are a meter square each (0.01% of the total surface area of the US), you can *optimistically* supply around 7.5% of the US's electrical supply. (I say *optimistically* because that math assumes best-case incident solar radiation conditions, which the US almost certainly does not get.)

Re:Crap (4, Interesting)

sed quid in infernos (1167989) | about 2 years ago | (#42650015)

If you actually sit down and DO the math, even if you covered the US with solar panels you cannot cover US yearly electrical requirements.

Assuming your numbers are correct, lets say our solar radiation conditions are 10% of the best case. Then to provide all the electricity the U.S. needs, we'd have to cover 1.3333% of the total surface area.

Of course, we can choose the best available locations for each additional panel, so we can do a whole lot better than 10% of the best case. If we can only do half as well on average, the number comes down to .267%. And we can use at least some surfaces for their original use and for solar energy production (rooftop panels).

There are lots of difficulties between here and full solar power. I doubt we'd ever want all our electricity coming from solar power. And even .267% of the surface area of the U.S. is an enormous amount, and acquiring rights to that land would probably be impractical. But if we did need to do it, space wouldn't become the limiting factor for a long time. And if we could solve all of the other logistical problems--storage, distribution, manufacture, maintenance--we would have enough surface area to provide for the U.S.'s energy needs via solar. It just wouldn't be the best way to go about providing electricity.

Re:Crap (1)

Luke_2010 (1515829) | about 2 years ago | (#42650437)

You should add to the math eolic, tidal and geothermal energy that are as ecologic as solar. Also, probably the most advanced and powerful solar technology is not taken in consideration in your comment: solar satellites collecting solar energy in the space and retrasmitting it to Earth using a decoupled microwave beam. Since solar energy in the space is much more powerful than on Earth where is filtered by the biosphere, it was calculated that a network of solar satellites could provide enough energy for the whole planet, even beaming it on request on spot without the need of any infrastructure.

Re:Crap (3, Insightful)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#42650729)

There are two places were putting solar would give the best bang for the buck. As you said, rooftops. If they covered the entire roof, they should make the roof last longer than without the panels. The other place is over roadways. There shouldn't be any problem with right of ways since the roads are already controlled by the government. Also, you would add protection from the elements to those roads which should both prolong the life of the roads as well as reduce the number of accidents caused by adverse weather conditions. Extra bonus points if location transmitters were added to the panel construction to aid in navigation and/or auto-drive cars.

Re:Crap (3, Interesting)

Noughmad (1044096) | about 2 years ago | (#42650047)

I saw an interesting comparison made by a professor: If you covered the entire area that was evacuated because of the Fukushima incident with solar cells, they would produce less power than the nuclear reactor did (not to mention how much more it would cost).

Roof size (1)

bigtrike (904535) | about 2 years ago | (#42650159)

If covering 0.01% of the surface area of the US could supply 7.5% of the electricity, covering 100% of the US would supply 75000% of our power needs (under the unrealistic most optimal conditions you state). A billion square meters is only ~33km*33km, which wouldn't even take up a fraction of one of our major southwestern deserts.

There are 311 million residents, why would you only put down 3 square meters per person? The average middle class home roof is approximately 200 square meters and there's a good deal more roof space for businesses. Obviously there are many constraints and other costs preventing that, but it seems like the most optimal conditions would allow for more than 7.5% in roof space alone. You can fit a billion

Re:Crap (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650253)

Methinks you need to redo your math. The reports I've seen say it requires less 1% of the land area. 5 acres of solar panels will produce about 1 megawatt of electricity. Total US generating capacity currently is around 1 terawatt. Assuming solar panels produce about 1/3 of their rated capacity over a 24 hour period that means it would require about 15 million acres of solar panels to cover US electrical production. That sounds like a lot but the area of the lower 48 states is 3,119,884.69 square miles or 1,996,718,413 acres. 15 million acres is only about 0.75% of that area.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42650305)

You make two claims, since they are in conflict only one can be true. Which is it?

Either 0.01% of the USA area can make 7.5% of our power or coving the whole country would not reach 100% of power generation.

Re:Crap (3, Interesting)

efalk (935211) | about 2 years ago | (#42650865)

This is key. Unless your surface area is limited (space craft, vehicles), it's not efficiency that matters, but cost per watt of capacity.

Make solar cheaper per watt than coal plants (we're getting close now), and then watch all the rooftops in the country get covered with solar panels.

Even if all the rooftops combined aren't enough to produce *all* our needs, every 300MW of solar power is one coal plant shut down, and 2400 tons less CO2 produced. Per day.

Re:Crap (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649533)

Even if it is 100% coal power, it is still cleaner and more efficient than gasoline.

There is no need to put the solar panels on the car. You can put them on your garage, or buy solar power from the grid.

Re:Crap (3, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#42649723)

At about 3" thick, and 3' x 5', I estimate I can get about 20 panels in my minivan. Should be plenty.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649817)

Dear God, are you strapping them onto the bottom of your van too?

Re:Crap (2)

bigtrike (904535) | about 2 years ago | (#42650405)

Solution: mirrored roads

Re:Crap (5, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 2 years ago | (#42649967)

Please stop perpetuating the myth that "most" of our electricity - at least in the US - comes from coal. Coal has been the source for less than 50% of our electrical supply for nearly a decade now and is still declining (Currently around 40%). Even in the worst-case scenario (Colorado, where the local electricity mix is the "dirtiest" in the country) an EV like the Nissan LEAF has the same carbon footprint as a Toyota Prius. It only improves from there.

Also, electricity is fungible. Putting solar panels on your roof to generate electricity during the daytime peak hours even if your car isn't home charging more than offsets the electricity you consume during off-peak hours at night, both in quantity and quality. If anything you are doing more good by putting PV power into the grid than by using it, since you are offsetting peak-generating capacity which is virtually always fossil-fuel based and adding load to soak up off-peak spinning reserve, improving efficiency and reducing energy waste.
=Smidge=

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42651145)

Also, electricity is fungible.

It is what? I am not a native English speaker, and I have looked for this word in my dictionaries. I cannot find it. What does it mean? You use it in a manner suggesting that it means "redirectable, can be used in other ways, not limited to what it was created for," but those already have words, so you clearly do not intend those meanings. Just what are you meaning?

Re:Crap (1)

superstick58 (809423) | about 2 years ago | (#42650241)

US figures given here... The single most abundant generation source is coal. However, if you combine nuclear, hydro, and renewables, coal is 37.6% vs 30.3% for "non-greenhouse" sources in 2012. If you add nat gas which is cleaner and more efficient even though it does create CO2, total generation from "cleaner" sources is 61.3% vs coal's 37.6%. In other words, it isn't such a bad thing to power your cars with electricity.

source [eia.gov]

Re:Crap (3, Informative)

iamhassi (659463) | about 2 years ago | (#42650259)

And typically get most of their power from coal.

You could stick a couple of square meters of solar panels on a typical car, which at 20% efficiency would give you about 240W on a sunny day. For a half-hour commute (fifteen minutes each way) and eight hours in the car park, that would give you about five horsepower if the battery is 100% efficient and you didn't need to use any other electrical items, like AC or headlights.

So it's potentially possible, but would be a really crappy drive.

Nissan Leaf gets 4.5 miles per kWh. [youtube.com] So every hour of charging would get about 1 mile, assuming your math is correct.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649473)

Trams, trains, underground trains, all run on electricity.

We simply lack the infrastructure to replace cars in any meaningful quantity.

recharging the Solar car at work (2)

sfm (195458) | about 2 years ago | (#42649633)

Do the math on a solar powered car.....

Assume you could cover the entire top surface(s) of a small car with solar panels and let them charge batteries
all day while the car is parked at work. Assume battery charging is 100% efficient:
        Panel Area ~4 m^2 (liberal, but I'm trying to make a point)
        Panel Efficiency 20.4%
        Time in sun 8 hours
        Sun angle derate 50%
        Solar input ~1kw/m^2

Then the batteries get charged with 1*4*8*0.5*0.204 ==> ~3.26 KWH
A small car engine is rated at ~200 KW (i.e. Ford Focus Spec at 223 KW)
If you average using only 1/4 the available power ===> 50 KW
The saved energy in the battery will move you for 60min*3.26/50 ===> ~4 minutes

So, you run out of juice about the time you hit the on-ramp of the freeway.

The point being, this isn't going to work unless you have more efficient cells, more efficient vehicles, more
solar panel area, or a combination of all three.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (4, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649689)

You forgot one little thing, a solar powered car does not have to have the solar panels on it. The solar energy can be captured somewhere else and then the car can be recharged with this power.

Much like your current gasoline powered car does not have to drill a well every time you can to fill up.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650135)

Here's a solar powered car for 2 dollars [dx.com] . I've got one, they're great fun.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649781)

If you're averaging 50kw driving *to* the freeway, I don't want to be anywhere near you.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649785)

The Nissan leaf can go 3 miles on a kilowatt hour (best case but I'm making a point). Your 3.25 KWH would let me go about 10 miles, which is enough for the average american commute. Your mistake was in your assumptions on power usage. The leaf has an 80WKH motor and rarely uses 100% of that and uses nearly zero when sitting in traffic.

But you are correct in saying there's not enough energy there to do 100% solar power with the cells on the car. But who cares? If I plug into an outlet while at work and pull from the grid while simultaneously pushing back into the grid with solar panels on the roof of my house, the net result is "solar powered car".

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 2 years ago | (#42649945)

50KW, eh? So you're doing about 80mph on your way to the freeway? Exactly how fast do you go *on* the freeway?

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650389)

A 2 KW solar array produces about 10 kWh of energy per day, give or take a panel or a cloud etc. This is a common statistic where there are greater than 5 usable hours of sunlight.

Modern electric cars get about 4 miles per kWh. 4 miles per kWh * 10 kWh = 40 miles.

The average drive for Americans is something less than 40 miles per day. I have heard 38 and 33. I drive 8.

From http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2011/10/nissan-leaf-drivers-average-37-miles-per-day-added-range-not-needed-says-product-boss.html
They also prove consistent with data from conventional gasoline powered cars, which shows that 72 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles per day and 95 percent drive less than 100 miles per day.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#42650431)

3.26 KWH times 1 mil vehicles = 3.26GWH/day or enough power to run about 300,000 houses.

Funny how that adds up

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (3, Interesting)

iamhassi (659463) | about 2 years ago | (#42650455)

Do the math on a solar powered car.....

Assume you could cover the entire top surface(s) of a small car with solar panels and let them charge batteries all day while the car is parked at work. Assume battery charging is 100% efficient: Panel Area ~4 m^2 (liberal, but I'm trying to make a point) Panel Efficiency 20.4% Time in sun 8 hours Sun angle derate 50% Solar input ~1kw/m^2

Then the batteries get charged with 1*4*8*0.5*0.204 ==> ~3.26 KWH A small car engine is rated at ~200 KW (i.e. Ford Focus Spec at 223 KW) If you average using only 1/4 the available power ===> 50 KW The saved energy in the battery will move you for 60min*3.26/50 ===> ~4 minutes

So, you run out of juice about the time you hit the on-ramp of the freeway.

The point being, this isn't going to work unless you have more efficient cells, more efficient vehicles, more solar panel area, or a combination of all three.

Actually the Nissan Leaf gets about 4.5 miles per KWH. [youtube.com] So if the panels on the car really can generate 3.26 KWH in only 8 hours that's 4.5 miles * 3.26 KWH = 14.67 miles just on solar power. That's pretty significant IMHO, that would be worth adding solar panels to the car, even if you have a place to park and charge it at night. For example, let's say your daily commute is 25 miles, that's 175 miles a week. For the sake of simplicity let's say the Leaf gets 87.5 miles per charge, so the user would charge twice a week in this example. If the solar panels generate a 14.67 mile range every day, that's only 10.33 miles being used by batteries instead of the full 25 miles, so instead of charging twice a week, user would charge every 8 days. This is huge, especially for people that live in apartments or other situations where plugging your car in is not convenient, they could bring the car somewhere once every 8 days for a full charging.

Re:recharging the Solar car at work (1)

swillden (191260) | about 2 years ago | (#42651213)

Actually the Nissan Leaf gets about 4.5 miles per KWH.

That's.... optimistic. You can get 4.5 m/kWh, but doing so requires driving quite a bit more efficiently than most people do. 3.5 m/kWh is more typical, especially for those who do much freeway driving. Still, that's 11.4 miles on solar power, assuming a 4m^2 area, which is pretty generous. I'd say half that is more realistic, so call it 5 miles on a day of solar self-charging.

In my case, my LEAF is parked indoors basically 24x7, so solar panels on it wouldn't be worth much at all. I mostly drive it between my garage at home and the underground parking garage at work.

I know someone with a solar-powered car (1)

efalk (935211) | about 2 years ago | (#42650751)

I know someone with a Rav-4 which she charges from solar panels on the roof of her house.

However, unless there's a serious revolution in battery technology, I don't think the electric car is ever going to be practical.

Likewise, solar panels don't work at night, under trees, or when it's cloudy.

None of those are arguments against developing solar technology. Or wind power. While neither of these can ever totally replace fossil fuel power or nuclear, they make excellent supplements. Solar power is at its peak at the same time demand is at its peak. And every kWh of solar power represents 1-2 lbs of CO2 not released into the atmosphere.

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649293)

Right, because we all know that power plants use gasoline engines to generate electricity? Yeah, no.

Oh and natural gas plants have near 60% efficiency. Coal and oil are in the mid 40s and nuclear in the lower 40s. So yeah, it's still at less than half the efficiency of other generation.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649341)

Since it has no cost for fuel, I don't think we can compare it that way and get any real meaning.

If you want to compare area each tech uses to generate a given amount of power, or how much each pollutes per GigaWatt that would be valid.

Re:Crap (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#42649457)

Since it has no cost for fuel, I don't think we can compare it that way and get any real meaning.

Yeah, because solar panels and batteries to store power for when there's not enough sun are free.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649515)

That is not fuel, those are capital costs.
All power plants have capital costs. Do you think nuclear reactors just pop into being?

Re:Crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649651)

I honestly have no idea what you're trying to say.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649713)

That recurring cost and capital costs are not the same thing. Fuel is a recurring cost. Solar panels and batteries are like the reactor at a nuclear power plant which are capital costs.

Re:Crap (1)

GeoSanDiego (703197) | about 2 years ago | (#42649631)

And of course the energy used to manufacture them is free as well.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649739)

No one ever suggested it was, but it is again a capital cost not a reoccurring cost like fuel.
It is bootstrapable though, you could build the first X panels from whatever power then use that to build more.

In reality it does not matter, since the energy used to make the panels is such a small amount compared to what they will produce.

Re:Crap (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 2 years ago | (#42649915)

Eventually you need to buy more panels because they don't hold up to, oh, sunlight and air.

Re:Crap (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42650077)

Eventually you have to buy more power plants too.

25 years is the normal estimated panel life, but I know of panels from the 80s that still work.

Re:Crap (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#42649983)

Since it has no cost for fuel, I don't think we can compare it that way and get any real meaning.

It can be done. You simply take the (time) discount value of all cash flows.

Some tech has high upfront costs (solar cells), others have high fuel costs (Coal). All would have maintenance costs. External costs (soot from coal, C02 from fossil fuels) can be handled by a pollution tax. Peak vs. Base could be priced differently. Some wold have a long life - others a short.

Then run it though a Monte Carlo simulation and presto – you have your result - a return on project with confidence internals. Pick the one with the highest return.

Re:Crap (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42650319)

Yes, which is nothing like the comparison the GP was trying to make.

Re:Crap (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#42650879)

Used to do that for a living.

Everything comes down to projected fuel price, availability, load, new generation and hydro conditions.

I can give you all the answers you describe. But like all modelers I can make the model give me the answers I want and you will not be able to catch me without spending weeks on the dataset, then maybe.

Modeling the grid (or any other non-linear chaotic system) more then a few years out is at best a guess, at worst a self serving lie.

Re:Crap (4, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 2 years ago | (#42649357)

Right, because we all know that power plants use gasoline engines to generate electricity? Yeah, no.

Oh and natural gas plants have near 60% efficiency. Coal and oil are in the mid 40s and nuclear in the lower 40s. So yeah, it's still at less than half the efficiency of other generation.

The fossil fuels burned in those power plants are nothing but stored solar energy. Given how much solar energy has had to shine on this planet for half a billion years in order to store enough coal or gas to run those generators, the overall efficiency of fossil fuel generation is absolutely abysmal.

Re:Crap (1)

Tomji (142759) | about 2 years ago | (#42649413)

"What makes it go?"

Was that physics book that Feynman loved so much written by you?

Re:Crap (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 2 years ago | (#42649569)

"What makes it go?"

Was that physics book that Feynman loved so much written by you?

Wasn't the answer in the book "energy," which he thought was too nuanced and incomplete, while his "the Sun" example was the kind of thing he said his dad would have taught?

Re:Crap (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42649451)

Coal and oil are in the mid 40s and nuclear in the lower 40s.

What about the power needed to extract/transport all that stuff?

A solar panel has a one-off cost but will produce that 'abysmal' 20% power for many, many years.

Re:Crap (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 2 years ago | (#42649481)

"Oh wait - that's only 25% to 30% efficient"

In a car? More like 10%, and when considered in traffic and city driving, maybe 7 to 8%.

Re:Crap (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 2 years ago | (#42649505)

Yep, 20.4% is crap efficiency, but still better than the electric generator in a Chevy Volt!

One out of Five? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649215)

Only 20.4%? That's better than a weather man but worse than an average baseball player. Next!

Again? (1)

DaemonDan (2773445) | about 2 years ago | (#42649289)

It seems like every couple of months some solar cell breaks a different barrier. A slashdot story from November (http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/11/03/2010244/solar-panel-breaks-third-of-a-sun-efficiency-barrier) clocked some solar panel as being 33.5% efficient. Are they measuring on different scales or definitions of efficiency or something?

Re:Again? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#42649359)

That cell used concentrated photovoltaics, this article is about a different technology I believe.

Re:Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649363)

Different types of cells, with difference complexity/cost to produce.

Re:Again? (2)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 2 years ago | (#42649367)

This is for thin film cells (supposedly cheap, but silicon has a habit of outcheaping newcomers over and over again).

Re:Again? (1)

OpenSourced (323149) | about 2 years ago | (#42649381)

It's clearly stated that this is a record for "thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenid (or CIGS) based solar cells on flexible polymer foils". Now if we talk about non flexible polymer foils, that's a whole different business :-)

Re:Again? (1)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#42649507)

Right. The current record for all solar cells is 44%. 27% has been achieved without rare materials.

When you see indium and gallium in the materials list, it's not going to be a high-volume product.

Re:Again? (3, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 2 years ago | (#42649589)

Right. The current record for all solar cells is 44%. 27% has been achieved without rare materials.

When you see indium and gallium in the materials list, it's not going to be a high-volume product.

Quite the opposite. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_indium_gallium_selenide_solar_cells [wikipedia.org]

Re:Again? (1)

Noughmad (1044096) | about 2 years ago | (#42650111)

Note that anything over 30% was achieved by stacking multiple layers on top of one another, each absorbing light of different wavelength. Yes, they have higher efficiency, but obviously require disproportionately more materials. Currently I still think that sunlight is cheaper than silicon.

Re:Again? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 2 years ago | (#42649391)

I guess this barrier was just for flexible cells?

Re:Again? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649395)

It depends upon the technology. I work for a Germanium substrate manufacturer that makes the substrate (the bottom layer) for solar cell manufacturing. The efficiency of germanium cells is much higher (depending upon sun concentration it can be above 40%).

The title is very misleading in that it makes you think they are the highest efficient solar cells but really that is not very high. The thing that is nice about this particular technology is that it is flexible.

I believe germanium based solar cells are some of the highest efficiency (under concentration) but they are extremely expensive to manufacture. In the near future they will likely build solar farms that will use lenses or mirrors to concentrate the sun on very small solar cells (perhaps germanium or gallium arsenide). Concentrating the sun really helps to increase the solar efficiency of the cell itself. Hopefully sometime soon solar will be cost competitive with line power (without government subsidies). It is on its way there but we haven't perfected the technology enough yet, at least not on a commercial scale.

A tiny efficiency boost from using Unobtanium? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#42649365)

This will revolutionise electricity generation in such diverse fields as, uh... space craft and... um... space stations.

Re:A tiny efficiency boost from using Unobtanium? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42649461)

This will revolutionise electricity generation in such diverse fields as, uh... space craft and... um... space stations.

Aerospace uses non-flexible crystalline at about twice the power output, because what matters is more or less watts/Kg. For non-panel satellites with cells mounted right on the satellite body, what really matters is watts/sq meter.

Now you need flexible cells for ... um...

Re:A tiny efficiency boost from using Unobtanium? (3, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 2 years ago | (#42649607)

This will revolutionise electricity generation in such diverse fields as, uh... space craft and... um... space stations.

Aerospace uses non-flexible crystalline at about twice the power output, because what matters is more or less watts/Kg. For non-panel satellites with cells mounted right on the satellite body, what really matters is watts/sq meter.

Now you need flexible cells for ... um...

Easy of manufacturing, for one, but more importantly the cost of manufacture (watts/$) is very, very low.

Re:A tiny efficiency boost from using Unobtanium? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42650821)

I'd like to see a breakdown of installed panel costs. I'm guessing the cells aren't a big factor. There's a cottage industry of people charging quite a lot of money to do the install work, and the aluminum back panel, framework edges, and glass "must" cost at least as much as a standard external "storm" door of similar quality and dimensions despite having the annoying internal electrical connections and having to be waterproof. I'm guessing that the installed cost of a panel without cells would already be something like 90% of the cost of an actual working panel, so I donno if dropping cell costs is going to have much of an effect on the overall viability of solar.

Its analogous to automotive costs, where there's a fixation on the cost of union labor, ignoring the fact that the labor cost per vehicle is already only like one grand per vehicle, so even if a miracle robot assembled trucks for free with no mistakes no capex and no maintenance, a 4x4 crew cab pickup truck would only drop in price from $60K to $59K or whatever. I'm not sure if "public enemy #1" of the solar (or automotive) industry, at least in the popular press, is the real enemy.

Re:A tiny efficiency boost from using Unobtanium? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#42650191)

Although, the efficiency they now achieved on a film is about the same [wikipedia.org] with the very best high-end stuff was 20-25 years ago. So the panels on the Hubble, for example, which was launched in 1990, launched with panels little or no better than this.

Same old hype, where are the products? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649409)

I've been hearing these stories about solar cell efficiency improvements for years and years. Same old lab vaporware.

Until you have product for sale, it's just hype.

Re:Same old hype, where are the products? (1)

sulimma (796805) | about 2 years ago | (#42650045)

There are your products:
http://deepresource.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/german-pv-price1 [wordpress.com] .

Many incremental technology advances like the one in this article make these dramatic price reductions possible.

Old News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649591)

I feel like I've heard this before:
http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/06/12/06/027228/solar-cell-achieves-40-efficiency
http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/11/03/2010244/solar-panel-breaks-third-of-a-sun-efficiency-barrier

Single layer efficiency (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649679)

Before somebody brings up 40% efficient cells, this efficiency is for a single layer. The 40%+ efficiencies are for so called multiple junction cells which are basically several solar cells stacked on top of one another. This record is for a single layer, for which 20% is really good.

Also, comparisons with petrol engines efficiency are kinda pointless since the advantages and disadvantages of solar is environmental impact and cost respectively. Nobody really cares if it is more or less efficient than petrol. What people are concerned about is environmental impact and cost, which are not easily compared by looking at the efficiency.

Hearing this type of thing for 12 years on /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649797)

For solar cells, for cancer. Just stop promoting these press releases. When it comes to market as a proven technology, then I'll be impressed.

Price is what matters most (4, Insightful)

amiga3D (567632) | about 2 years ago | (#42649815)

It's the cost that matters more than efficiency. I don't need a 20% efficient panel that costs 10 times what a 10% efficient panel costs. Really I just want some inexpensive but durable panels. Something where I can recoup my costs in 3 or 4 years not a decade or so.

Re:Price is what matters most (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650139)

It's the cost that matters more than efficiency. I don't need a 20% efficient panel that costs 10 times what a 10% efficient panel costs. Really I just want some inexpensive but durable panels. Something where I can recoup my costs in 3 or 4 years not a decade or so.

There you go again, living in your own private Idaho.

'Cost' is a term that needs a little more definition in a context such as this. Did you mean price alone, or do you subscribe to the notion of you own personal impunity?

Not everyone believes that the continued production of electrical energy can or should go on in a business-as-usual fashion due to the consequences of toxic atmospheric emissions or GHG emissions and their associated effects on the global ecological or political environment. There are plenty of people in the world who believe that their 401K has a lower priority than their responsibility to posterity.

They used to be called concerned citizens. I know it's a term that seems to have fallen out of fashion, but it can't be too hard to find some reference to this ethic. You might care to look into it... or not.

Re:Price is what matters most (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 2 years ago | (#42650339)

I believe in survival. Spending a disproportionate amount of my income on drastically overpriced energy isn't compatible with that goal. I like to save the environment if I can do it without causing me an inordinate amount of pain. In other words, I'm not going to go bankrupt for the sake of the planet. If someone can produce a reasonably efficient panel for an affordable price I'm there. If not then coal works just fine.

Re:Price is what matters most (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650891)

... for sufficiently short-sighted definitions of "just fine".

Re:Price is what matters most (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 years ago | (#42650869)

Personally, I would be satisfied with the cost of the panels today. The real problem is the cost of the equipment needed to install the panels, like the inverter. Plus the red tape in getting permits and whatnot for the installation.

Efficiency is nice but (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42649951)

It's all about Storage, Shielding, and Containment. The most egregious flaw in the modern power system is that we have to use it or lose it.

yawn (1)

shaitand (626655) | about 2 years ago | (#42650157)

Let me know when you can buy a 1KW panel for $50.

Re:yawn (3, Insightful)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#42651207)

Pay off that panel in 2/3rds of a year assuming an average 100watt output and $0.10/KWH. Sounds a bit like saying "Let me know when doctors found a cure to cancer, then I will go see one."

Cost per watt (1)

backslashdot (95548) | about 2 years ago | (#42650233)

And still polysilicon reigns as king. Why? It's because this breakthrough still hasn't changed the most important measure which is cost per watt. From a business and consumer perspective that's what matters.

When they figure out how to reduce the cost per watt of solar, let me know. We need a to reduce the cost of solar energy to at least 1/5th of what it costs now if it's to compete with coal. Even if we figure out how to make solar cells out of newspaper .. the cost of battery/storage for overnight will keep it's cost above that of coal. So for solar to be a success we need two breakthroughs .. first and foremost ... how do we make solar cells cheaply? .. And second, .. how do we make cheap batteries?

Think about it, if you are going to build a power plant .. would you spend 5 to 10 times more on it and get unsubsidized solar or will you save money and build coal? That's the question facing power plant builders.

Probably didnt break any records (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42650303)

Was it really record breaking?

http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1942/1840/F6.large.jpg

According to this graph they were no where close to breaking the record back in 2011 with 18.7%. I really wish I had a more updated graph but I believe the CIGS were bumped up higher since this graph was produced (back in 8/2010).

Re:Probably didnt break any records (2)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 2 years ago | (#42650849)

You can find a more up to date graph in Wikipedia [wikimedia.org] .

To me it seems like all basic PV technologies (excluding multi-junction cells, concentrated solar, and the like) are converging in performance. The question is how cheap they will be and how much manufacturing scale is possible. 20% efficiency is actually quite a lot.

The Swiss' ... (0)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#42650463)

... may be more efficient. But the Italian's are more fun.

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