Engineers from the University of Stanford have created a transparent, silica material that increases the efficiency of solar cells.
This very thin, patterned silica material is able to help dissipate a significant amount of heat that is captured by solar panels. Solar pv cells convert light photons into electricity, not any available heat.
A common misconception about solar power is that hot locales are perfect for solar power. In actuality, extreme heat reduces the overall efficiency of solar cells.
This new solar application can reduce temperatures by about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This increases cell efficiency by 1 percent. One percent may not sound like much, but for large scale utility applications, this is considerable.
Another perspective for this 1 percent figure is to realize that solar cell engineers are constantly working on improving solar efficiency percentages. Improvements are typically in the range of tenths of a percent, so a whole percent increase is actually quite substantial.
From the residential solar point of view, this development may not be as noticeable. For the average homeowner, additional long term savings may only be in the hundreds of dollars. This application should hopefully be available to installers, in the near future, for a very small additional increase in the cost of solar panels. If the cost is significant at all, the added efficiency benefits will not be worth it.
It may actually be quite awhile before this technology is taken to market. One reason is that this silica overlay is “suited for clear and dry environments”. Even desert climates experience their fair share of rain, so if this material can’t hold up to a little moisture then their potential real world solar application potential may be limited.
It’s fair to say that we can look forward to more potential solar power breakthroughs that will make an already viable industry look that much more appealing. The big picture is that the time for solar power expansion is now. Any further improvements in solar cell technology will only increase its rapid adoption rates.