Thursday, August 5, 2010

Some good news on the solar front

One of the problems with standard photovoltaic technology is apparently that solar panels become less efficient as they get hot. I didn't know that, and it's certainly a limiting factor. However, it seems there's a breakthrough on this front:
Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil.

Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels – which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises – the new process excels at higher temperatures.

Called "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies.

"This is really a conceptual breakthrough, a new energy conversion process, not just a new material or a slightly different tweak," said Nick Melosh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research group. "It is actually something fundamentally different about how you can harvest energy."

And the materials needed to build a device to make the process work are cheap and easily available, meaning the power that comes from it will be affordable.

Source (h/t mfyahya in this iTulip thread). If this lives up to the promise, this will be huge.

Solar power in general is finally, belatedly, getting the respect it deserves. In the same thread we find a link to this:

It seems that economies of scale are finally paying off for solar. This can only be good news. And while Canada is rather behind a lot of countries on the alt-E front, PV units are rolling off the line at the ATS plant in Cambridge now. So maybe it's not all doom and gloom.

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