Coming Advances In Solar Power

The source of the page linked here provides information about a potential new technological breakthrough in solar PV systems that will revolutionize the industry. Even though solar panel systems have improved in efficiency, gaining twice the yields that could be expected a decade ago, two objections cited by naysayers remain to cast doubt upon this new technology. One is the amount of land a solar PV park requires to make the same amount of electrical capacity as a conventional power plant. The other is the traditional objection that solar panels will not operate on a cloudy day.

Increased efficiency of the conversion transistors helps reduce the size and number of panels needed to produce comparable power. Solar PV systems are already achieving grid parity with coal-fired powerplants. The next step will be the achievement of efficiencies equal or superior to natural gas. This is merely a matter of refinement in present design and will be reached in time.

Meeting the second challenge is the focus of current research at the University of California, Riverside. The main feature of solar PV panels which is also its “weakness” is in the harvest of visible light photons to produce electrical current directly. However, the sun also emits radiation in the infrared and ultraviolet spectra. Infrared wavelength light penetrates cloud cover as if it wasn’t there. Unfortunately, infrared light is useless for electricity production. Some lines of research have concentrated upon designing solar transistors that can directly harvest infrared light. However, development along this line would require not only more complex and expensive transistors but the complete redesign of present solar panel systems. This would drive up costs and make solar power far less competitive on the market.

The second line of research being pursued at Riverside involves development of a hybrid material for the surface of a solar panel which can convert infrared light into visible light. This would mean only a slight modification in present designs for solar panels and possibly a cheap conversion package for existing panels. The result would be a wider harvest of solar radiation for useable power, increased power efficiency, and ultimately total grid-parity with conventional power systems for lower cost. Once these goals are met, and solar power becomes far more attractive as an option, the demand will transform present solar PV manufacturing into a scale-economy venture further lowering cost and achieving market saturation in a comparatively short time.

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