New Invention For Boosting Solar Energy Cells Offers Significant Gains In Production

 Sustainable Energy Through the Sun: Solar energy gets a bump in productivitySustainable Energy Through the Sun: Solar energy gets a bump in productivity

 

While the sun is one of our most plentiful sources of sustainable energy, solar panels aren’t nearly as efficient as most consumers would like them to be. Because of this a lot of people just don’t think solar energy is worth the effort on the return — at least at this point. And to some extent there is some validity to this point of view, but a lot of that has been changing in the last few years. As more and more improvements have been made to the concept and design of solar devices, the more investment worthy they’ve become.

Boosting Solar Energy

Now, three engineers have designed a transparent cooling cloth that’s said to boost solar cell productivity “significantly.” So, how does it work and how “significant” are the improvements and, more importantly, is the boost enough to sway the public to begin investing in and start utilizing the technology?

 

New Invention For Boosting Solar Energy Cells Offers Significant Gains In ProductionNew Invention For Boosting Solar Energy Cells Offers Significant Gains In Production

 

Solar Cells


Believe it or not, the problem currently with solar cells is they overheat from direct sunlight and their productivity levels drop. Yes, it sounds difficult to fathom, but it’s true: the sun, the very source of their power, is too much for them. The hotter solar cells get, the less efficiently they convert sunlight into usable electricity. The quandary is in order for solar arrays to function they must face the sun, even though the heat from it is detrimental to their efficiency.

Cooling Solar Cells

So, how do you cool solar cells so that the photons in light can still be converted? You can’t cover them up or it defeats the purpose; right? The answer is yes and no. As it turns out, the very way to get around this vexing problem is to cover them up.

Solar Energy


Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, research associate Aaswath P. Raman and doctoral candidate Linxiao Zhu have discovered that by draping or covering the cells in a transparent material of their invention they can deflect the heat of the sun itself while still allowing sunlight to pass through it. This allows the cells to remain cooler, thus improving their efficiency.

Simple Solutions

The relatively simple solution is based on patterned silica material, which is laid on top of traditional solar cells. The super thin material is transparent to the sunlight that fuels solar cells, but it captures and then deflects the thermal energy (heat) generated from infrared rays away from them.

Solar Technology


The invention and technology are not exactly new. The same three engineers developed and tested the material back in 2014 where it successfully radiated infrared heat back toward space without warming the atmosphere. Their findings were eventually presented in Nature, describing it as "radiative cooling." The trio then applied that same technology to improving solar array performance when the sun is glaring at its hottest.

Solar Energy Testing

It was tested on a customized solar absorber covered with a micron-scale pattern engineered to maximize the ability to push heat (in the form of infrared light) out into space. The tests demonstrated that the transparent overlay allowed visible light to pass through it to reach the solar cells while cooling the absorber by as much as 55 degrees, thus improving efficiency significantly.

 

Ordinairy solar panels to get a boost in efficiency: A new transparent cloth will increase solar energy outputOrdinairy solar panels to get a boost in efficiency: A new transparent cloth will increase solar energy output

 

Solar Panels


The engineers have stated that the new transparent overlay works best in a dry, clear environment, which is compatible with preferred sites for use of large solar arrays. It is also their consensus that they can eventually scale things up a notch or two so that soon commercial and industrial applications will be feasible using techniques like nanoprint lithography. They stressed that with constant innovations and improvements in fabrication of these patterns that’s not the only way forward, but they remain optimistic for the future.

Solar Applications

Besides solar panels, there are other applications where this technology has significant potential. They are confident it could be applied to nearly any outdoor system that requires cooling but still needs visible sunlight for practical or aesthetic purposes. The technology may one day be used to cool automobiles and various structures.

Sustainable Energy


With this invention and multiple other technologies, scientists firmly believe we are on the right path for making solar energy a much more feasible solution to long-term sustainable energy. It is their fervent hope that one day most of the world’s energy consumption will be met by alternative sources rather than relying on fossil fuels for the bulk of our energy needs. Promising discoveries like this are a good start.