Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Oct 13

Solar Cell Sets World Efficiency Record

Posted in Energy Inventions | Photovoltaic Cells | Solar Power

Efficient Solar Cell We all want to get rid of our dependency on fossil fuels and their side effects. Alternative sources of energy seems clean and green but they have a poor conversion rate which makes some people extra cynical about the viability of renewable energy. But researchers at U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency. This photovoltaic mechanism transforms 40.8 percent of the light that goes through it into energy. This is the highest confirmed efficiency of any photovoltaic device to date.

NREL’s Mark Wanlass is the person behind the invention of original inverted cell. This design was awarded the R&D 100 award. His design was improved upon by a team under the leadership of John Geisz. The material properties of the mismatched semiconductors allows for superior potential conversion of sunlight.

This new solar cell is using the constituents of gallium indium phosphide and gallium indium arsenide for splitting the solar spectrum into three equal parts. These spectrums of light are absorbed by cell’s three junctions for better potential effectiveness. This system is extremely thin and light, factors that contribute to the efficiency of the solar cells. These cells have better performance, design, operation and costs.

This photovoltaic device is meant for space satellites and for terrestrial concentrated photovoltaic arrays which use mirrors or lenses to focus sunlight onto the solar cells. The 40.8 percent efficiency was calculated under the concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is equivalent to the quantity of light that naturally strikes Earth on a bright day. This high efficiency solar cell is designed, fabricated and independently measured at NREL.

  • just watching

    When it comes to Wal-Mart at $.30 per peak watt then I will beleve it. So far all this talk has come to nothing.

  • Jeff Dahlgren

    Solar cell breakthroughs like this are fabulous news! Now just how soon can they get them into commercial production is the key.

    With the new extended tax credits the boom in renewable energy becoming mainstream for residential homes and I am glad to see that the this technology will help solidify photovoltaics and solar power as one!

    Jeff Dahlgren

  • Steve

    I am plugging in the numbers and it just does not make sense. Solar energy is way more expensive then what I have piped into my house from the standard utility companies. The only time solar would be cost effective is when there is no fuel left on earth. With the downturn of the economy and the upfront costs fewer people will be able to afford solar.

  • Solar John

    Steve; When you compare the cost of solar electricity with the cost of coal-generated electricity, don’t fget the hidden costs. We tend to ignore the mountains that are destroyed in Appalachia, the air and water pollution, and the effect on animals and people. If not for the fact that those things are ignored, and that the coal industry is heavily subsodized, solar electricity would compare quite favorably. Personally, I would rather pay more for “clean” energy than to let my children suffer from the effects of using coal-generated electricity. I’ve also found that I didn’t have to spend a fortune to get solar power, and I don’t have to sacrifice comfort or quality of life.

  • Solar John

    At the time of this writing 93% of the respondents believe that solar power is a feasable energy alternative. So why is it that our legislators subsodize the oil and coal industries, while giving so little to renewable energy research and development? I suspect political contributions are the main reason. We need leaders who care about the environment, and who are sincere about breaking our dependence on foreign oil. We need to turn this breakthrough into an affordable product, and offer incentives for installing it. I’ll be impressed with the first legislator who does something like that. I’m tired of gimmicks and lies.

  • Harold

    So many alternatives could have been developed. I just read an article stating that Alcohol could take over gasoline! The article was written in 1919. Yes 90 years ago. WHAT STOPPED THIS FROM HAPPENING?

    Here is the answer. this answer explains why many good ideas die with few ever knowing. Imagine you (MR.M) sold something for a living, you become rich beyond your wildest dreams. Your wife daughters and sons depend on the income and have their own factories and lives built around the product. Generations pass and half of the world economy depends on it.

    Now some yahoo from shiboiken Kentuckey comes up with this idea that can do your job for 5% of what you have been providing. I THINK THIS COULD BE A PROBLEM TO MR. M half the world.

    QUESTION are you going to sit back and watch the world change over and completely forget about you and your product? or are you going to contact this yahoo as soon as possible and buy him out for a couple hundred thousand, then relax and enjoy the market AS IT WAS?

    I would probably pay a high price to keep my industry alive.

    If you don’t believe that it can happen, keep in mind that our U.S. government thought that moving the Indians to Oklahoma would be “good for both Indians and U.S. citizens” and a large population in the south thought that slavery was beneficial to whites AND blacks? What kind of backwards thinking is that? It is lazy thinking, that’s what kind of thinking, they are too lazy to start a new industry, so they feed some of the profits back into it by buying off new ideas and technology. This way they can prolong their industry indefinitely until they run out of….. whatever it is they are pushing… lets say OIL. NOW THAT IT IS ALMOST gone they are thinking… hmmmm maybe we can let some of these new ideas that were here in 1919 grow a little until we find one we can back, control, and keep out of the hands of the general public.

  • Harold

    In short, I agree with “Just Watching” in his first comment about Wallmart. It will never make it to me and you!

  • Harold

    What would happen to this world if a product were produced that a family could buy one unit for $2,000. and have a supply of energy for their car and home for the rest of their lives.

    It would shut down most of the energy companies, EVERYWHERE!
    It would shut down the world wide War machines. What would they fight over????
    Half of the world’s employed population would need to find new industries to work in and a bunch of lazy rich people would actually have to DO SOMETHING to make money instead of just raking in the profits from generations of easy money.

  • Rajasekar

    Hi… I’m doing a project on solar cells with chaps (combined heat and power system)… can u tell me the amount (capacity) of pv cells required to produce 1kw and at same time to heat water to 50c?

  • Brad

    People who say they are happy with the energy status quo in America, are looking for a “Walmart solution” and won’t go for alternative energy until it’s as cheap as fossil fuel make Rip Van Winkle look like a hyperactive–they must have been asleep for more than 30 year entire generation. In 1973 we had the Arab Oil embargo. We sat in gas lines for hours. America imported 30+% of its oil. Congress held hearings, declared it an imperative for our national security, the environment and the economy to have federal, state and local hearings every two years on a national Energy Security Plan and to carry out the plan. Reagan flatly refused to comply. He told the country we would just drill our way out of the crisis–not a bit of truth, honesty or intelligence in any of it. 35 years later we import 63+% of our petroleum, are fighting wars in the mideast and losing precious lives and billions of dollars we desperately need at home, have the worst economic recession in 80 years, have ensured that we are as backward environmentally and as insecure as a nation could possibly be,and it has just been reported that even though we couldn’t afford to buy imported goods and oil plunged by far more than 50% in cost per barrel, last month we still– incredibly–managed to run up a higher foreign trade deficit because of a binge on imported petroleum. India and China and Eastern Europe collectively have a huge present and future demand for petroleum that didn’t even exist 35 years ago.Most of the world understands this scenario and is taking aggressive action to develop indigenous non-polluting alternative energy. If high school and college students and the rest of the world can understand this stuff, why can’t American adults in their SUV’s driving around the malls? If American adults are so ignorant and decadent that they won’t give a fig for their country or themselves, at least they should have a care for their children and the planet.

  • John Bamberger

    NREL’s new 40% efficiency solar cell sounds intriguing. One concern I have is have much gallium is there; is this a very expensive metal? Also, they tested this under “326 suns”, so what does it do in ordinary conditions? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

    Also, the plastic solar cells sound like they would be far less expensive, but only 5% efficiency. Is that typical of solar cells now? If we can get more boost with fewer cells, would that be better than acres and acres of 5% cells?

  • gsuhas

    But how much fossil fuel is getting used to make a solar cell. This should include all the energy used for making the machines to make the solar cells. This chain goes on backwards. Then we should see if we can generate energy using solar cell more than what we consume in making the solar cell. Otherwise, it will just mean that for greener energy of tomorrow, we will be burning fossil fuel today.

  • C.H.Inglin

    Interesting question. Here’s my back of the envelope solution without actually knowing how much energy goes into making a solar cell. We know that the cost of the energy (all sources, including the energy needed to manufacture the machinery and run the plant) is factored into the selling price of the solar panel, along with labor, profit etc. So I found a Kyocera 130 watt panel that retails for $565. Some portion of that price covers the cost of energy. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s 1/4, or $141.25. That’s all energy, not just fossil fuel, and probably overstated. Let’s say for the sake of argument that this panel averages 100 watts over ten hours, 365 days a year (a Kwh a day or 365 Kwh a year). Locally PG&E charges me $.11550 / Kwh. So the value of the electricity produced by this panel is roughly $42 a year. So in three years and 4 months the panel will produce energy equal to the amount we’re assuming went into its production. Assuming a working life of 25 years, the panel is going to produce much more energy than it cost to make it.

  • ulysses

    I totally agree that solar panels are very expensive. But, I also agree that the cost of war is even much more. If we take all the money spent on the Iraq war and purchase solar panels for each household in America, wouldn’t that have more lasting benefit to our national security and our environment? But of course, we’ll have a new breed of terrorists called politicians and lobbyists.

  • Chris


    Solar DIDN’T exist in 1919! Not sure where you heard that from?

    Einstein didn’t set down his theory of the Photoelectric Effect until 1921. And even then, it was merely theoretical.

  • soulpatch

    I think the belief that paying Walmart prices is the standard is a large part of the problem. Walmarts are drains on local economies and to patronize them is to damage your local standard of living based on wages paid vs. local cost of living expenses. I am willing to pay more for clean energy and more importantly help to lesson the dependence of our country on foreign oil.

  • andrew


    Actually, I believe solar power DID exist in 1919. I think it actually has existed since the beginning of the earth, and I’m pretty sure it’s the reason why life exists on this planet today. All the rest of the world’s living creatures use the sun’s energy to develop and evolve beautiful lifestyles that do no harm to the earth while getting everything they need from nature, while humans are the only ones that rape the earth of its resources and give nothing back. I think it’s about time to start realizing our place on the planet and not wait for jesus to come save us all and take us to heaven once we’ve destroyed the earth

  • Suhas

    We are forgetting about the subsidy being given by nature. When we see the grass growing, we think that it is free of expenses. But it take much water and minerals from nature. Similarly, when we get some metal from nature, we calculate the cost of mining and extraction only.

    But if we count the subsidy given by nature and the fossil oil consumption for making the solar cells, we will realize that solar cell is also not green. Solar cell is green only during its use, but it consumes much fossil fuel during its production.While digesting this view, please do not forget about the fossil fuels consumed on making the machines and making the machine to make these machines.

  • Justwatching

    Andrew, I think what you are trying to say is we must act responsibly. Going back to the stone age is not the answer.
    Lack of clean water will soon be more important than energy.

  • John DeFelice

    All these comments are very interesting and show that there is a need for us to find alternative methods of energy production. Solar, wind, etc. are all valid. It requires us as a nation and world to mandate these changes. I believe, like so many have inferred, that the power people haven’t figured out a way to tax it or profit from it. Back in the 70’s we mandated all vehicles produce less emissions (smog pumps, unleaded gas etc). We doubled our consumption. Petroleum companies loved it. I wonder if we would have mandated more MPG (miles per gallon) if we could not have achieved the same results( less consumption, more efficient engines and ads touting which cars are getting the most MPG). The same holds true for alternative energy sources. We had electric companies paying incentives to build all electric homes. They got richer, we pay. It’s an industry folks….they won’t build it if it don’t make them money ( our government included). If we are ever going to change the way we are…. we must change the way we think.

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