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Researchers one step closer to efficient, colorful solar panels

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PV Magazine

LEFT: The nanopatterned module appears green, independent of the angle. RIGHT: Schematic of silicon nanoscatterer arrays on top of a sapphire cover slide, integrated into a commonly used solar panel design. Image provided by PV Magazine.

LEFT: The nanopatterned module appears green, independent of the angle.
RIGHT: Schematic of silicon nanoscatterer arrays on top of a sapphire cover slide, integrated into a commonly used solar panel design. Image provided by PV Magazine.

By stamping dense arrays of crystalline silicon nanocylinders onto solar modules, researchers in the Netherlands have managed to give green energy a green color.

A new study published this week in Applied Physics Letters demonstrates photovoltaic modules with a bright green color, based on silicon heterojunction solar cells integrated with arrays of light scattering dielectric nanoscatterers. The panels show only around a 10% power reduction due to the loss of absorbed green light, paving the way to designing efficient colorful or white building-integrated photovoltaics.

“Some people say ‘why would you make solar cells less efficient?’ But we can make solar cells beautiful without losing too much efficiency,” said Verena Neder, a researcher at AMOLF and lead author of the paper. “The new method to change the color of the panels is not only easy to apply but also attractive as an architectural design element and has the potential to widen their use.”

Unlike existing colored solar panels, the nanopatterns give a consistent appearance from different angles, so the panels appear green even from a wide angle.

Next, the researchers are designing imprints to create red and blue solar cells. Once they master these three colors, the primary colors of light, they can create any color, potentially even white.

“You have to combine different nanoparticles, and if they get very close to each other they can interact and that will affect the color,” said Albert Polman, a scientific group leader at AMOLF and senior author on the paper. “Going to white is a really big step.”

While most research to date has focused on increasing efficiency and reducing cost, the latest invention combines efficiency with aesthetics. Among other notable achievements in the field of aesthetic photovoltaic solutions are full-black solar modules and panels with integrated high-definition images.

Source: PV Magazine. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Peter Campbell

    Isn’t white, by definition, not absorbing any of the light, at which point efficiency would have dropped to zero?

    • WR

      The idea would be to reflect only a small percentage of the incident light, but across a wide part of the spectrum to produce the white colour.

      Most of the incident light would still be absorbed to generate electricity.

    • Alastair Leith

      Much of the energy from insolation (or ambient/reflected light) converted in PV cells is in the IR range of the spectrum, which is possibly why as they over heat the lose efficiency.

      • WR

        Most of the solar energy absorbed by the cell is in the visible part of the spectrum. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly, most of the sun’s energy is emitted in the visible part of the spectrum. Secondly, shorter wavelength visible light forms the majority of light absorbed in the depletion region of the p-n junction within the cell, and light absorbed in the depletion region is more efficiently converted into electricity than light absorbed deeper in the cell.

        At higher temperatures the energy gap between between the valence and conduction bands of the semiconductors narrows. This causes a reduction in cell voltage. This reduction in voltage causes the loss of efficiency as the cell temperature increases.

  • Alastair Leith

    Tesla did it a different way with the tilePV product, they reflects various colour from oblique angles but are transparent to reveal the PV cell below from closer to orthogonal angles.