Scientists at Stanford University have improved the efficiency of a revolutionary solar cell by around 100 times, but
solar panels made with Lepcon or Lumeloid could turn 70 to 80 percent of the energy from sunlight they receive into electricity.
Everybody wants to get off the grid. The public is desperate to save on energy costs and the only way is to tap into natural sources. Until free energy
becomes a reality, all we realistically have as a non-polluting source of energy is solar
The UC Berkeley scientists used a detailed computer model they developed of the West’s electric power grid to predict what will happen if the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) succeeds with its SunShot Initiative, which aims to make solar power more affordable and accessible to Americans. The model also considered the effects of enacting proposed carbon policies, such as a carbon cap.
They found that achieving the SunShot target would allow solar photovoltaic technology to provide more than a third of electric power in the region by 2050, displacing natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration technologies. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to help minimize the negative impacts of climate change, the researchers said.
The world record for triple-junction solar cell efficiency is 44 percent, but a collaboration between the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
(NRL), the Imperial College of London, and MicroLink Devices Inc. led to a multi-junction photovoltaic cell design that broke the 50 percent conversion efficiency barrier under concentrated solar illumination.
The best examples of traditional silicon solar cells top out at around 25 percent efficiency
, whereas multi-junction cells have achieved more than 40 percent
Scientists at Stanford University have improved the efficiency of a revolutionary solar cell by around 100 times. Unlike standard photovoltaic cells, which only capture light energy, Stanford’s new device captures both light and heat, potentially boosting solar cell efficiency towards 60% -- way beyond the 30-40% limit of traditional silicon photovoltaic solar cells.
“Given strategic long-term planning and research and policy support, the increase in electricity costs can be contained as we reduce emissions,” said study leader Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. “Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost.”
Kammen and his UC Berkeley students are developing the computer model, called SWITCH, in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) to study generation, transmission and storage options for the United States west of the Kansas/Colorado border as well as in northwest Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
“Our goal is to study how we can keep costs low and ensure that the grid stays reliable as we transition to an electricity system with lower emissions and higher levels of intermittent renewable generation,” said first author Ana Mileva, a UC Berkeley graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group and RAEL.
SunShot is the DOE’s effort to work with industry, government and researchers to bring the price of solar power down to that of conventional power by 2020. The DOE currently invests about $300 million per year in solar energy technologies.
Kammen said that carbon caps or taxes will be needed to provide an initial incentive for the utility industry to move toward low-carbon electricity sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, while some previous studies have emphasized the high cost of carbon taxes or caps, the new study shows that achieving the SunShot targets could greatly moderate the increased costs of electric power. Solar power could save consumers 14 percent, or more than $20 billion, annually by 2050 while still achieving carbon goals.
“The lower estimated ratepayer cost is also partly attributable to the coordinated investment in new power plants, transmission lines, storage, and demand response in the SWITCH model,” Kammen said. “Using such a comprehensive strategy could substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets.”
Kelley Bergman is a media consultant, critic and geopolitical investigator. She has worked as a journalist and writer, specializing in geostrategic issues around the globe.