Inexpensive Optical Device Boosts Solar Efficiency

Today’s generation of solar panels can only achieve up to 20 percent energy efficiency in terms of converting solar power to electricity. However, this limitation may change with this breakthrough invention from Dubai.

A research team from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) created an optical device that is able to convert a larger percentage of the solar energy into useful power. The technology does this by harvesting sunlight and concentrating it to ensure optimum energy conversion. “The spectral splitting concentrator we have designed for this promising solar energy capture technology is a combination between a prism, which separates the different colors or wavelengths of sunlight, and a lens, which concentrates the light that can be used to help harness a greater amount of energy from the sun,” said study co-author Carlo Maragliano in a news release.

Traditional solar panels are equipped with photovoltaic (PV) cells made of silicon, which can transform only up to a fifth of the absorbed solar power into a more useful form of energy. This is because only the sun’s energy in the visible light spectrum is being absorbed properly, while the rest in the green and blue wavelengths are absorbed at low efficiencies, and infrared wavelengths are totally disregarded. However, in the technology by Maragliano and his team, the optical device is made up of several spectrum-specific solar cells that can convert not only visible light but also infrared. The device comes with a dispersion medium that separates the different light spectra. This breakthrough device is made of polycarbonate via injection molding.

The team is confident that their device can reach up to 38 percent solar efficiency, which is double the current standard. If this holds true, expect the solar industry to propel a new age of energy use and generation in a big way.

[Photo courtesy of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology]