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Published on August 29th, 2012 | by James Ayre


Low-Cost, High-Efficiency Solar Power Technology Developed

August 29th, 2012 by  

Researchers at RTI International have developed a new solar power technology that could make solar energy much more affordable. This breakthrough in low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy could greatly help to speed-up its market adoption.


The new solar cells are created from “solutions of semiconductor particles, known as colloidal quantum dots, and can have a power conversion efficiency that is competitive to traditional cells at a fraction of the cost.”

Solar power costs have been falling fast, but they still need to fall further for widespread market adoption.

The “RTI-developed solar cells were created using low-cost materials and processing techniques that reduce the primary costs of photovoltaic production, including materials, capital infrastructure and energy associated with manufacturing.”

A preliminary analysis of the material costs of this new technology has shown that it should be possible to produce it for less than $20 per square meter — that’s nearly 75 percent less than conventional solar power cells.

“Solar energy currently represents less than 1 percent of the global energy supply, and substantial reductions in material and production costs of photovoltaics are necessary to increase the use of solar power,” said Ethan Klem, a research scientist at RTI and co-principal investigator of the project. “This technology addresses each of the major cost drivers of photovoltaics and could go a long way in helping achieve that goal.”

In tests done by the researchers, the solar cells consistently created a power conversion efficiency of more than 5 percent. That is very comparable to other promising and emerging solar power technologies.

“The efficiency of these devices is primarily limited by the amount of sunlight that is absorbed,” said Jay Lewis, a senior research scientist at RTI and the project’s other principal investigator. “There are many well-known techniques to enhance absorption, which suggests that the performance can increase substantially.”

The solar cells are composed of flexible, lightweight layers. These can be manufactured using ‘high volume roll-to-roll processing and inexpensive coating processes’ — this reduces the capital costs and greatly increases production. And in a great improvement over conventional solar cells, the new cells can be created at room temperature, which will greatly reduce input energy requirements and cost.

Another key benefit of the technology besides its low cost is its higher infrared sensitivity, which allows the cells to use more of the available solar spectrum for power generation.

The research on the new technology was just published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Source: RTI International
Image Credits: RTI International 

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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