Hot Solar Cells Could Answer the Call For Cheap Energy
The MIT Technology Review has come out with “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017,” which highlights significant strides that science has made in everything from self-learning computers to curing paralysis. These technologies are still in their childhood but promise to make it to adulthood in the next 10-20 years, which is a tiny blip with how big these achievements are.
Hot Solar Cells
Current Panels are Inefficient
Solar panels are becoming a standard with those who have the means to cover their rooftops. However, it’s been decades since they were first developed and the slabs of silicon continue to be bulky, expensive, and inefficient. Standard silicon solar cells capture the visual light from violet to red, which can never make more than about 32 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity.
A team of MIT scientists has built a new means of converting solar energy using imaginative engineering and advances in materials science to obtain considerably more energy from the sun. The method they have devised is to first turn sunlight into heat and then convert it back into light, but focus it on the spectrum that solar cells can use. Since heat is easier to store than electricity if the team can create a storage device to keep the extra energy to be used when it isn’t sunny out it could answer the need for cheap, clean, and continuous solar power.
Still a Ways Away
The downsides to this approach include the relatively high cost of several components and it currently works only in a vacuum. However, as the device’s efficiency levels climb the economics should improve, and the researchers have a distinct path to accomplishing that. The solar cell is still a crude prototype, operating at only 6.8 percent efficiency but in the near future, it could be twice as efficient as conventional photovoltaics.