Researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency

December 7, 2014
solar cell

UNSW Australia's solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The record efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

The work was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and supported by the Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV).

"This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity," UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Advanced Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green said.

"We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry," added Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project.

The 40% efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance.

"The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia," Professor Green said.

Power towers are being developed by Australian company, RayGen Resources, which provided design and technical support for the high efficiency prototype. Another partner in the research was Spectrolab, a US-based company that provided some of the cells used in the project.

A key part of the prototype's design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the themselves ever could.

Such filters reflect particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the achievement is another world first for Australian research and development and further demonstrates the value of investing in Australia's ingenuity.

"We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness."

The 40% efficiency achievement is outlined in a paper expected to be published soon by the Progress in Photovoltaics journal. It will also be presented at the Australian PV Institute's Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference, which begins at UNSW today (Monday 8 December).

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43 comments

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Caliban
3.9 / 5 (13) Dec 07, 2014
Another nail in the coffin of BigCarbon. Forty percent conversion of an entirely free resource into usable electricity. This advance, alone, exceeds the maximum, real-world efficiency of a gas-burning ICE.

Bravo, ARENA-AUSIAPV-UNSW-NREL!
imido
Dec 07, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
2.7 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2014
Now we will hear the "only on 30% of the time" whine, form those unable to understand how grids work. Before any technologies are connected, they are wrung out from every perspective, yet those not in the business seem to assume it is willy-nilly.

This system is not for household use, but for utilities. The households can take care of themselves for the most part, with their own panels. As technologies continue to produce more efficient devices, our household energy use can continue to drop, as it has been doing.
imido
Dec 07, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
2.9 / 5 (17) Dec 07, 2014
" a shift to renewable energy will just replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals and minerals)"
--------------------------------------------

We have plenty of materials. We will get many of them from the old dirty fossil plants we tear down. Plus they are not consumed, as dirty fuels are, they are only used and recycled.

Are we going to run out of Silicon?

Yours in an invalid complaint. You completely ignore the diversity and development of power sources. It is a problem with those of you who were not in the business.
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (21) Dec 07, 2014
the second one is, we still have no such solar cells at the regular market

Brilliant observation. Research projects that are just now being reported are not yet on the market. No shit, Sherlock.

Which is something, what the scientists only rarely care about.

Again: no shit, Sherlock. First you get stuff to work. Then you make it cheap. The other way around doesn't work, you know?

renewable energy will just replace one non-renewable resource (fossil fuel) with another (metals and minerals)

Does your stupidity know no bounds today? Fossil fuels are used up. Metals and minerals are not used up and can even be recycled when these powerplants gets too old...which is basically never.

Eikka
3.6 / 5 (14) Dec 07, 2014
Are we going to run out of Silicon?


No, but we're likely to run out of Indium:

http://ieeexplore...D5411461

With the accelerating growth in solar, and the demand from consumer applications the question of availability is relevant and there are indications of impending shortages. According to the most recent assessment from the USGS (U.S Geological Survey), the world wide Indium supply could deplete in 10 years.


Indium is used in the transparent electrodes on photovoltaic cells. Other materials exist, but they are inferior in use, or much more expensive to manufacture.
Eikka
3.5 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2014
Metals and minerals are not used up and can even be recycled when these powerplants gets too old...which is basically never.


They do have a lifespan of around 30-40 years or so due to electromigration/diffusion along the semiconducting junction, which is shortened by contamination and corrosion of the materials. PV panels wear out for the exact same reason LEDs get dimmer over time.

While one can recycle old solar panels, it may be that there isn't enough materials available to build a sufficient number of them in the first place. The cost of manufacturing simply shoots up as the required metals and minerals become scarce.

And ultimately, in the very long term, recycling always loses you a part of the material because you can't capture 100% of what you process. It ends up in landfills and dispersed around in the environment in such dilute manner that it's infeasible to collect it back. That's why we'd rather make electronics out of graphene than gallium.

gkam
2.2 / 5 (14) Dec 07, 2014
With the new advances, we will not require Indium in all PV cells. Many technologies are now available, and are being commercialized as we type.
Eikka
3.2 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2014
With the new advances, we will not require Indium in all PV cells. Many technologies are now available, and are being commercialized as we type.


Like what?

At what cost?

Now we will hear the "only on 30% of the time" whine, form those unable to understand how grids work.


Its still an issue regardless of the grid. That's another example of your doublethink. You invoke "the grid" as a buzzword answer to the intermittency problems of renewable energy, when it's the grid itself that has a problem with the intermittency and the huge shifts in load and production these alternative energy sources subject it to.

And in the end, the "virtual battery" principle is simply shifting the pollution out of your own grid into someone else's, so you can pretend to be green. It doesn't remove the need for fossil fuel consumption for the vast majority of your energy.

gkam
1.8 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2014
"And in the end, the "virtual battery" principle is simply shifting the pollution out of your own grid into someone else's,"
----------------------------------------

Really? If we trade around wind and PV, we are increasing our pollution? Does the sun shine in the daytime? Does the wind blow all the time somewhere? Just our 94,000 square mile PG&E grid had sufficient topography to support many renewable technologies, and the other seven Western states and the small parts of Canada and Mexico make it one of the most diverse imaginable.

When I was with the utility, the main grid was the WSCC, named for the Western States Coordinating Council.
Eikka
3.9 / 5 (11) Dec 07, 2014
Before any technologies are connected, they are wrung out from every perspective, yet those not in the business seem to assume it is willy-nilly.


Yet those who actually research the subject KNOW it is willy nilly. See the article from earlier that you're conveniently ignoring because it doesn't suit your narrative:

http://phys.org/n...ral.html

Government and the electricity industry must act now to prepare for the inevitable impact of increased private solar on the State's electricity network or risk a death spiral of network disruptions and rising costs over the coming decade


Professor Grace said the Government and electricity industry were not planning adequately for the transition that would necessarily result from the trend towards private solar and the public-policy need to phase out fossil fuels.
Eikka
4.1 / 5 (11) Dec 07, 2014
Really? If we trade around wind and PV, we are increasing our pollution?


That's misdirection from the point.

Since the virtual battery is essentially operating on the principle that in a large-enough grid your intermittency does not produce too much disturbance, you always need a large amount of conventional power to be available in the whole system. In the virtual battery, the non-dispatchable intermittent energy has to play a minority role.

For example, the whole of the WSCC area fits in a single timezone. That means all of its solar power is on more or less at the same time, acting like a single large unit rather than a distributed system where one area picks up the slack from another.

gkam
2 / 5 (13) Dec 07, 2014
It was YOUR grid which could not handle all the wind power, not ours.
Eikka
4 / 5 (11) Dec 07, 2014
It was YOUR grid which could not handle all the wind power, not ours.


That's because YOUR grid doesn't have such significant amounts of it in the first place.
gkam
1.5 / 5 (10) Dec 07, 2014
Bad planning is it.
gkam
2 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2014
Eikka, nobody says it will be easy, many good things aren't. We still have to develop the techniques and devices to integrate these technologies into the existing infrastructure with good efficacy. But I was very surprised to see how the Europeans probably need better coordination of resources. They suffer from smaller nations, regions, and more languages, making integration of all of it more difficult. They are very intelligent, . . . it is being done.
sirchick
3.5 / 5 (6) Dec 07, 2014
Another nail in the coffin of BigCarbon. Forty percent conversion of an entirely free resource into usable electricity. This advance, alone, exceeds the maximum, real-world efficiency of a gas-burning ICE.

Bravo, ARENA-AUSIAPV-UNSW-NREL!


We still won't see it on house roofs and all over the place. It would be stopped by power companies who have their fingers in every corner of government as it would not be in their interest.
gkam
1.6 / 5 (10) Dec 07, 2014
sirchick, the issue is an interesting one. If the utilities had recognized or anticipated the Chinese would mass produce PV components so cheaply, they could have jumped ahead, and offered customers the units themselves. It is in their interest to add such generation during peak periods, which significantly overlap many production times of the units.

In fact, the utilities are controlled by the PUC in California, and a similar group in your own state. I was hired in 1980 to show large PG&E customers how to use less electricity. The PUC and Jerry Brown did that, and saved us from crisis. At the same time, we tested and developed many other power technologies.
Doug_Huffman
2.2 / 5 (10) Dec 07, 2014
LOL Remember that 100% efficiency is < 1350 Watt meter^-2 for less than half of every day. I am glad that I'll be dead before my green and wild world is paved over in the name of efficiency.
Captain Stumpy
4.1 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2014
We still won't see it on house roofs and all over the place. It would be stopped by power companies who have their fingers in every corner of government as it would not be in their interest
@sirchick
actually, you are correct

recently i traveled to FL and read a newspaper article from a small local paper about the utility companies pushing to get rid of "unsightly" solar panels on homes

some homes and neighborhood owners associations are also supporting the utilities assessments that solar panels are unsightly and requesting them removed

http://www.quiets...ar-power

http://www.renewa...ne-state

gkam
2.3 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2014
The Arizona utilities got caught secretly opposing PV panels. It did not have to be that way.

The way will probably be to have a meter charge, and sell at wholesale to the power company, and buy at retail any difference. It costs more than many realize to maintain the system, and compensate for the limited power supply of renewables.

But purely residential power matters not, since many public organizations are spring up to produce their own power for their local areas. PV "farms" have been selling out before they can be started.
imido
Dec 07, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2014
Once again, we do not need money to survive, but are completely dependent upon a beneficial environment to clean our water, make our Oxygen, and provide us with food.

Those who think money is real are in for a big surprise. They assume as resources get more scarce, it will be "resolved" by price. But it does not take money to drill for and extract/deplete oil, it takes ENERGY.

When the energy in it is less than the energy used to get it, your game is over. Then, you can burn your money at the wellhead for steam and secondary recovery.

betterexists
5 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2014
35–45% of glucose that the Plant produces is consumed by the leaf itself...Wiki
hangman04
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2014
Do not fear ! We will be mining asteroids by the time we are out of indium :))
mbee1
5 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2014
While I do not want to rain on this parade of good feeling, the theoretical efficiency of a solar cell per wiki is 33.7 percent max and that of silicon cells slightly less. The claim of 40 percent leaves out a whole bunch of something. I suspect this is a ad as this university has made similar claims on climate which turned out to be wrong.
foolspoo
not rated yet Dec 08, 2014
huge fan gkam, huge fan
Kanaga
3 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2014
World record Solar Cell with 44.7% Efficiency
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin jointly announced today having achieved a new world record for the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a new solar cell structure with four solar subcells. Surpassing competition after only over three years of research, and entering the roadmap at world class level, a new record efficiency of 44.7% was measured at a concentration of 297 suns. This indicates that 44.7% of the solar spectrum's energy, from ultraviolet through to the infrared, is converted into electrical energy. This is a major step towards reducing further the costs of solar electricity and continues to pave the way to the 50% efficiency roadmap.

zoljah
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2014
Oct 11, 2014:
"A system that can concentrate the sun's radiation by 2,000 times and convert 80 percent of it into useful energy has been developed by IBM Research in a team effort with Airlight Energy of Switzerland. Engineers at IBM Research and Airlight Energy are announcing the technology, which is able to generate 12 kW of electrical power and 20 kW of heat"
gkam
2.2 / 5 (10) Dec 09, 2014
I see bad times coming for Dirty Power.
Modernmystic
not rated yet Dec 09, 2014
Once again, we do not need money to survive, but are completely dependent upon a beneficial environment to clean our water, make our Oxygen, and provide us with food.


Oh, ok then look at this...

http://www.thegua...ollution
http://www.dailym...tes.html
http://www.ncbi.n...1469566/
http://institutef...inerals/
http://www.scienc...6390067X
http://www.chemis...nts.html
http://www.ntn.or...inal.pdf

There's a LOT more where those came from.
I see bad times coming for Dirty Power.


Pot meet kettle...
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Dec 09, 2014
betterexists
1 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2014
Why there are not that many comments here?
Mobility is restricted. That's Why!
There is no "My Comments" LINK to click on...To Pool them all up from time to time.
betterexists
not rated yet Dec 09, 2014
I see bad times coming for Dirty Power.

THEY WILL BE HISTORY!
Where are the Belts?
Oysteroid
not rated yet Dec 10, 2014
Do not fear ! We will be mining asteroids by the time we are out of indium :))


Only if the Green Luddites drop their opposition to the nuclear power. Without its widespread use - no widespread space flight for you. But... If we have nuclear, who needs pathetic renewables? Hence their vested opposition.
Oysteroid
not rated yet Dec 10, 2014
huge fan gkam, huge fan

And as any "huge fan", more than a bit blind to the obvious.
Oysteroid
not rated yet Dec 10, 2014
And of course, the UNSW is the totally discredited home of the "Ship of Fools" fiasco. With their propensity to underwrite any and all agenda driven projects, no matter how dubious, it's no wonder they are behind this too.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 10, 2014
" If we have nuclear, who needs pathetic renewables? Hence their vested opposition."
----------------------------------
Yes, . . It is in Fukushima and Chernobyl. They need you there.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 10, 2014
"Only if the Green Luddites drop their opposition to the nuclear power."
----------------------------------------

This "green luddite" was a Senior Engineer for a power company, and one who had previously helped test BWR safety Relief Valve components for the same kind of Mark I which had THREE complete meltdowns at Fukushima. It is experience which teaches me.
gkam
2 / 5 (8) Dec 10, 2014

"Every 3 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is flipping the switch on another completed solar project.

Maintaining its vibrant growth, the U.S. installed 1,354 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in Q3 2014, up 41 percent over the same period last year. The numbers come from the latest edition of GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association's (SEIA) U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, which was released yesterday."
- http://ecowatch.c...85916837
- - - - -
It used to be poco a poco, but now we see the acceleration. Our concepts of power systems will change.

http://www.seia.o...-2014-q3
Agomemnon
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2014
I may be pro-Thorium nuclear energy, drill for more oil fracking yeah, yes fusion will be coming soon, more CO2 is good and so is a warmer earth kinda guy...BUT this is quite a break-through in solar power generation.

More power, more economic growth, higher standards of living. Nothing to complain about here.
Egleton
not rated yet Dec 10, 2014
Once again, we do not need money to survive, but are completely dependent upon a beneficial environment to clean our water,. . .


Oh, ok then look at this...

http://www.thegua...ollution
.

Two valid points that emphasize Gerard K O'neil conclusion that the surface of our planet is not an appropriate place for industry.
However the masters of The Land Of the Free decided to use our rescources bombing rice farmers in the Mekong.
May they Rot In Hell.

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