This is the new world record for solar energy efficiency

Positioned in the US, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set their sights on a whole new world record for the industry. They’ve put their focus on producing a solar cell that’s able to convert light into a source of electricity, all the while maintaining 50 per cent efficiency.

According to Renew Economy, the record was put in place by the NREL team with the idea of using a solar cell that features six junctions. It will also include 140 layers of semiconductor materials – the baseline for achieving a 41.1 per cent conversion rate.

This design is now the benchmark for conversion efficiency for all other projects in the field, especially photovoltaic design. Previous records saw a goal of 46 per cent efficiency (back in 2014).

Scientists believe that this fresh take on solar cells could open up new doors for creating advancements that have much higher efficiency. This kind of development would make it more suitable for contexts that need concentrated sources and better stability.

NREL’s John Geisz said that the device highlights the “extraordinary potential of multijunction solar cells”, proving it a core part of advancing technology in the industry of the future.


How does it work?

The typical single-junction cell uses traditional conversion rates that cap at about 30 per cent efficiency. But scientists have been working hard to go beyond this limit, basically by laying up materials that are designed to convert portions of light into energy like electricity.

Now, a six-junction cell allows for efficiency of much her rate, enabling it to be scaled up towards commercial contexts. This will also cater to niche needs and applications that are more complex than what a single-junction cell can withstand.

Ideally, this kind of high-conversion capability would be used across concentrated solar plants. Instead of building an entirely new farm full of solar panels – which is what is usually done in typical circumstances – new options allow for the use of smaller numbers of much higher efficiency cells. They are then paired with less expensive mirrors to concentrate the source. This presents a cost-effective, competitive advantage for the market in the future.

So what does that mean in simple terms?

Ultimately, a mirror can capture light and focus it down a certain path. This means you can then collect a much smaller amount of the material needed to what a typical, less efficient silicon cell would garner.

As a result, fewer materials are used up, and efficiency skyrockets.

Australian researchers at ANU recently had similar success, setting an efficiency record for cells that ran alongside silicon counterparts and perovskite cells. The end result was a conversion efficiency of 27.7 per cent.



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