You just can’t rest on your solar laurels these days. Just a couple of months ago the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands announced a record-setting 17.0% efficiency for its multicrystalline silicon solar panels, which broke the previous record of 16.53% set by SunTech just a few months before that, and now both have been eclipsed by Kyocera, which has just announced an aperture area efficiency of 17.3.
Aperture area refers to the surface of the solar panel, and it’s a standard way of comparing efficiencies. In crystalline silicon solar technology, small increments in efficiency can make a big difference in the cost-effectiveness in a solar installation.
Solar Cells, Efficiency and Cost
Multicrystalline solar cells are less efficient that monocrystalline cells but also less expensive, and the market has been trending in that direction at least for general use. Other solar technology can yield far great efficiency, but at far greater cost, which would make it impracticable for individual homes and other small scale sites. According to solarindustrymagazine.com, part of Kyocera’s record-breaking achievement is due to moving wiring to the back of the cell, to increase the surface area available to capture light (conventional wiring is placed on the cell’s surface).
The Cost of Solar Power – How Low Can You Go?
The steady march of record-breakers in multicrystalline efficiencies will help keep the cost of solar trending down to the point where it consistently beats fossil fuels for small scale applications as well as the big megawatt arrays. In addition, innovation in the overall design of solar arrays is cutting costs, for example with the introduction of lightweight solar panels that reduce shipping, handling, and installation costs. The emerging use of alternative materials can also help keep costs trending downwards. IBM, for example, has just announced a record-setting 9.6% efficiency for solar cells made of inexpensive materials that are readily available, such as copper, tin, zinc, and sulfur.
Image: terren in Virginia on flickr.com.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.