I have seen my share of outstanding solar innovations, such as concentrated solar setups using tiny gallium arsenide cells that achieve an astounding 42% efficiency. However, I’ve been eagerly waiting for an outstanding innovation made from more abundant materials such as silicon.
The main reason is that silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, so it should remain cheap and available as long as needed.
Almost all of the silicon solar panels (aka solar modules) on the market are between 10% and 20% efficient, so it is high time for a module that is both constructed from abundant materials and is much more efficient.
The Dresden-based company Apollon GmbH & Co. KG and Solar Bankers LLC, which is based on Arizona, claim that they have developed a new silicon-based solar panel with a holographic foil that is twice as efficient as typical models, and that they are so cheap they can be manufactured in Germany or the USA at a lower cost than factories in China manufacture conventional solar panels.
They said that their solar modules achieve 28% efficiency, which is considerably higher than the average 17% efficiency on the solar module market. They have done so through advanced Concentrated Solar Photovoltaic module development — in particular, the use of light selection, deflection, and concentration. And the companies expect an even better efficiency soon.
“Our solution addresses the major downsides that make today’s photovoltaic (PV) technologies unprofitable. These disadvantages arise mainly from the material silicon as well as from efficiency losses, which result e.g. through heat occurring from concentration,” declares Jost.
This translates into much lower silicon requirements to generate the same amount of power. The companies note: “Contrary to today’s PV modules, this system only needs a fraction of the semiconductor material while the performance per square meter of the module surface is almost twice as high as conventional PV. The module is based on a holographic optic, which is a strong contrast to other concentrator photovoltaic modules using expensive flat lenses (e.g. Fresnel lenses).”
Jost says: “The holographic element is printed on the cover glass and filters the sunlight hitting the solar cell. The printing process allows an economical duplication and simultaneously saves laser and development work, usually necessary when using holographic elements.”
Here’s more info from a press release sent to CleanTechnica:
In contrast to other concentrator modules the distance between optic and solar cell is only a few millimeters and filters only the desirable wavelengths of the light. The sunlight is then concentrated on the solar cells. “Thanks to this specific wavelength selection, we avoid overheating issues usually generated by concentrated technologies which are today the source of significant efficiency losses,” explains Jost.
The new module continues to use silicon as the solar cell material. “With the holographic optic a 20- to 30-times concentration of the desirable wavelengths of the light makes a silicon needs reduction by over 90% compared to the amount of silicon used in standard solar modules possible,” explains Jost. “The amount of silicon used in our prototype can be measured in millimeters, reaching barely 3% of the total module area. Since solar cells account for more than half of module prices today, we achieve here considerable savings with comparable or higher efficiency values being possible. The rest of the module can optionally be left empty or be used as a kind of hybrid solar module, for example using solar thermal technology. The combination of both reduced raw material costs and higher efficiency levels is the key to achieve favorable energy generation costs. With our technology grid parity can finally be reached. Soon such solar panels will become standard, affordable household products,” concludes Solar Bankers’ President Jost. The objective is to put in place a 300 MW production capacity in the USA or in Germany and create 500 jobs by doing so.
If these companies’ claims are true, then this could also lower the cost of installing solar panels on rooftops, as these would be half the size of typical solar panels, so less labour would be required for installation. This is also very important because installation costs can account for about half of the cost of a solar system.
Now, if someone would just start standardizing their rooftop solar panel sizes and sell them with easy-to-use, pre-made mounting equipment, then we would make some great progress!