As the world begins to transition from fossil fuel energy to more sustainable forms of power, interest in solar panels has grown exponentially. New solar panel technologies currently under development will make it easier and more cost-efficient to use on new homes, as well as for retrofitting older homes to solar power.
Understanding Solar Panels
Solar panels are composed of materials that collect sunlight for conversion into electrical energy. They work by first absorbing the light, after which positive and negative charges are separated into areas of the cell. The separation creates voltage that is then transferred through electrical terminals for use in a variety of applications. In the past, the collection of light energy was done on individual silicon wafers. However, today’s solar panels are constructed much differently, allowing for a more efficient use of the materials and lower cost to the consumer. .
New Multi-Junction Technology
Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are working on a new triple-junction solar cell that could potentially break the 50 percent conversion efficiency barrier that has held back the widespread utilization of solar technology. Until now, the highest conversion efficiency achieved has been 44 percent. This new technology, in which multi-function solar cells within each junction are tuned to a separate wavelength band, promises to increase the efficiency significantly, theoretically to 87 percent at maximum. A combination of high band gap material and lattice matching helps to make this new technology possible.
Stick-On Solar Panels
Another interesting development comes from Stanford University where scientists have created the first peel-and-stick solar panel, an innovation that overcomes one of the drawbacks of traditional solar panels—their rigidity. This thin film material can attach directly to underlying materials, eliminating the need for additional fabrication on the substrate. This new type of panel uses silicon, silicon dioxide and a “sandwich” on a nickel film base layer. A thermal release tape allows the collection cells to be transferred onto the substrate easily.
Nanowire Solar Panels
A new method of producing solar panels uses nanotechnology to grow microscopic wires 180 nanometers thick from chemically altered phosphorus and indium. These wires are then etched with hydrochloric acid. Though these nanowires are used to cover just 12 percent of a panel’s surface, they can convert 14 percent of the incoming light into electricity, boosting efficiency significantly. The cost for this technology is still to high at this time, but further development of production methods will help to make this a useful addition to solar panel options.
More Common Materials
Instead of materials such as indium, gallium and other rare compounds for the cells on solar panels, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology and a chemist from Dow Chemical are working to develop solar panels that use more common materials such as copper oxide and zinc phosphide to create simple roofing shingles that would be able to collect sunlight for conversion into electricity. This advancement would provide a lower cost option and easy installation for both new and existing structures.