At the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, researchers have managed to greatly increase the efficiency of solar cells while simultaneously reducing its costs. These improvements were not expected within the industry for at least another ten years and includes new technology.
Researchers at UNSW have figured out a method to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms to correct deficiencies within silicon. Professor Stuart Wenham, the head of the university’s photovoltaics centre of excellence said, “We’ve been able to figure out what the secret is that enables hydrogen to sometimes work the way people want it to, and sometimes doesn’t.” Essentially, it allows poor quality silicon wafers to behave like high quality wafers which reduces the costs of solar panels. Currently, the silicon wafer alone accounts for over 50% of the costs required to make a solar cell. This leads to the industry tendency to focus on finding ways to lower the cost of silicon but often instigates a higher number of defects and contaminants that lower its efficiency. However, with this new technology, cheaper silicon is more efficient than using even the highest quality silicon. Using lower quality silicon wafers in this case could be an effective way to lower solar cell prices.
The new technology would allow for solar cell efficiencies between 21-23% , much greater than the 17-19% efficiency of the cells on the current market. The UNSW has patented their technique of controlling hydrogen atoms. Nevertheless, prices for solar panels have fallen by approximately 65% in the last two years, partially due to the huge increase in solar panel production in China. The falling prices have also lead to an increase in the Australian solar market with over 1 million homes with solar photovoltaic energy installed. The industry is also interested in UNSW’s new technology. They are working with industry partners to commercialise the project and with manufacturing companies to implement these new capabilities. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is supporting the project and is expected to be complete in 2016.
Source: Computer World