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UNSW sets solar efficiency world record using Australian tower technology

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An ARENA-funded solar research team at the University of New South Wales has recorded the highest efficiency for a PV system ever reported, converting over 40 per cent of sunlight into electricity, with an innovative take on Australian-designed solar tower technology.

The team achieved 40.1 per cent efficiency in outdoor testing in Sydney in late October, using a solar ‘Power Cube’ system made up of commercially available solar cells, but with innovative efficiency improvements.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” said UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Advanced Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green.

The PV system prototype was then transported to the US, where it was re-tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, achieving an efficiency of 40.4 per cent in early November.

The UNSW team says a key part of the ‘Power Cube’ prototype’s design is the use of a custom optical bandpass filter to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells on towers – reflecting particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others – and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could.

Figure 5: Photograph of the prototype under testing at UNSW on 22 October 2014 with an (unconfirmed) efficiency of over 40% measured on that day.

Figure 5: Photograph of the prototype under testing at UNSW on 22 October 2014 with an
efficiency of over 40% measured on that day.

They used solar power towers being developed by Australian company RayGen Resources, which provided design and technical support for the high efficiency prototype.

Another partner in the research was Spectrolab, a US-based company which provided some of the cells used in the project.

“The clever solution combines advanced triple junction cells with cheaper conventional silicon cells to boost power output,” said Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which contributed $550,000 towards the $1.3 million project.

“Light that is normally wasted by triple junction cells is captured by splitting incoming sunlight into different spectra and directing some of it into a silicon cell,” Frischknecht said.

“This approach has achieved a higher efficiency than what is physically possible with a triple junction cell alone.”

Frischknecht said the breakthrough could have practical applications for concentrated solar power PV towers, where sunlight is reflected from a field of sun tracking mirrors towards a central receiver.

“Instead of using mirrors to heat a medium like salt, the high tech receiver converts light to electricity directly, like a rooftop solar panel does,” he said.

“This project is an excellent example of ARENA achieving true innovation with real-world commercial application through investment in solar research.

“We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations.Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 7.21.14 AM

“It has real potential for RayGen Resources’ concentrating PV power tower technology, currently being commercialised through another ARENA supported project.

“Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”

The new record is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers, including a 1989 record of the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20 per cent efficiency – a result it has now doubled.

The research was also supported by the Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV).  

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  • barrie harrop

    Solar towers can fry rare and endangered birds.

    • JeffJL

      Coal mines do destroy the habitat of rare and endangered birds.

    • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

      Like all the dead birds around the base of wind turbines, it appears birds have more sense than most conservative commentators.

      • barrie harrop

        “Dr Cindy Hull is an avian ecologist
        who investigates claims that wind farms kill birds and bats in large numbers. Dr
        Hull writes that misinformation has muddied the waters on this issue,
        adding that her research debunks a number of common myths.”

        http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/5046460

        • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

          We don’t need to do extensive research into the effects of renewables on the flora, fauna and the general environment, it is self evident, that the risks are much much less than the alternatives, that’s why we naturally want and need them.
          It’s only the selfish invested, that try to make issues out of trivial concerns.

      • Miles Harding

        Easily solved – we can eliminate the birds by destroying their breeding habitats in areas like wetlands being trashed for coal terminals. This project is well underway and the bird problem will now solved in a blink of the evolutionary eye.

    • David in Bushwick

      Yes, even you.

    • Raddo

      Barrie harrop
      My beautiful daughter died of carbon pollution.The smog and pollution
      is bad for children and general public with Asthma. GO SOLAR

      • barrie harrop

        Sorry read that,yes go solar, it’s the solar tower technology that is yet to be proven

    • Chris Jackson

      Its people like you who hold us back from progressing…Some tat or another is wrong with it so it takes years longer than it should

  • Horst

    Argh no quickly ck take away their funding!!

  • Earl Henson

    “The 40% efficiency achievement is outlined in a paper expected to be published soon”

    ================

    Why write it in a paper? You have it. Just package the cell system and sell it at Home Depot. You can put the info on a paper inside the package. Just write 40% EFFICIENCY on the front package.
    People will believe you anyway.

  • Andrew

    I haven’t seen all the details of who worked on the project but it seems to me like this design is something I’d already seen last year. Maybe the UNSW team just got there first with practical applications?

    http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/513671/ultra-efficient-solar-power/

  • greenmail

    Barrie you are missing a few points here: Coalo clears forests for mining, oil devastates wildlife on a massive scale, burning both oil or coal destroys planets. Got it now mate. Sense of proportion is a non sectarian benefit that most humans possess but I can reassure you that you might find it through mindfulness and open enquiry.