Energy Efficient Solar Cells On the Way
March 11, 2013

Energy Efficient Solar Cells On the Way

The infrared segment of the Sun’s light wavelengths could provide over half of the power that we harvest from it. With a new theory posed by Ted Sargent, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, we might be on the verge of significantly boosting the efficiency of solar panels. (You can view the original article here.)

Traditionally, we used bulk material such as silicon and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide as the primary heat-absorbing material inside of our photovoltaic panels. Earlier solar panel models that originated from our need of them in space around 1958 use crystalline silicon, or thin film cells, to generate electricity from the Sun’s light energy (photons). The idea, and it takes quite a bit of thinking to wrap your mind around it, is that we can generate clean, solid energy to power vehicles and hardware without the use of environment-harming fuel resources.

Has the method worked as efficiently as we’d hoped? According to Ted Sargent, not so much. This is why Sargent and his research team have worked tirelessly to find the solution to more efficient solar panel technology through the use of quantum dot photovoltaics. As mentioned before, the previous technique allows us the potential for low-cost, large-area solar power, yet the devices don’t produce that much efficient energy from the infrared portion of the Sun’s heat energy.

What in bloody hell are you talking about?!?!

It’s simple. Traditional solar panels use light energy to convert to electric energy. Though this process is cheap and provides a practically limitless supply of this natural resource, it doesn’t utilize the infrared energy very well-which is over 50% of the energy we receive from the sun. In short, we’re missing half of the energy that we could be getting from the sun.

To make up for this, they’ve hypothesized the use of “Spectrally tuned, solution-processed plasmonic nanoparticles” to provide “unprecedented control over light’s propagation and absorption.” By using these Colloidal Quantum Dots, Dr. Susana Thon claims that the efficiency of this technology can be pushed by up to 35 percent of the current efficiency rating. Ultimately, more work will be needed in order to get the ball rolling on this idea, but the tests have been quite promising.

They also say that the adding of gold nano shells to the photovoltaic effect is necessary for the device to work. While gold isn’t really a cheap resource, they say that the same effect can be achieved with lower-cost metals.

The bottom line is this:

Although my explanation was confusing, you can be satisfied that the use of nanotechnology is being implemented in everyday technology to make our lives more efficient. I can’t speak on the time frame that we can expect this new device to work its way into current solar panel technology, but my instincts tell me soon.

Let me know what you think of the use of nanotechnology in solar panels in the comments section below.

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