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Researchers at MIT recently revealed a cutting-edge solar technology that promises a “tenfold increase in the amount of power converted by solar cells.” The development utilizes dye-glazed glass panels to capture and concentrate sunlight and then transfer it to an edge-aligned framework of photovoltaic cells. The resulting system uses cheap and readily available materials, is easy to manufacture, and modular systems can even be layered over existing photovoltaic systems to effectively double their energy efficiency for a minimal additional cost.
Imagine windows that not only provide a clear view and illuminate rooms, but also use sunlight to efficiently help power the building they are part of. MIT engineers report a new approach to harnessing the sun's energy that could allow just that.
The work, to be reported in the July 11 issue of Science, involves the creation of a novel "solar concentrator." "Light is collected over a large area [like a window] and gathered, or concentrated, at the edges," explains Marc A. Baldo, leader of the work and the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.
As a result, rather than covering a roof with expensive solar cells (the semiconductor devices that transform sunlight into electricity), the cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel. In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell "by a factor of over 40," Baldo says.
The Queensland University of Technology recently announced that it has been working with Dyesol to develop an innovative solar cell technology that re-envisions windows as clear, clean energy providers. Professor John Bell has said that these dye-infused solar cells would significantly reduce building energy costs, and could even generate surplus energy to be stored or sold. The development has been touted as the most promising advance in solar cell technology since the invention of the silicon cell.
Modern architecture has a love-hate relationship with windows: they contribute light and levity to interior spaces, yet they are the most frequently cited culprits for thermal energy loss. Traditional approaches to the problem have tended towards increasing insular ability, however this new development would imbue windows with power producing capabilities, actually providing energy instead of leaking it.
Most production tools in the solar industry tend to have a 10-30 megawatt (MW) annual production capacity. How is it possible to have a single tool with gigawatt throughput?
This feat is fundamentally enabled through the proprietary nanoparticle ink we have spent so many years developing. It allows us to deliver efficient solar cells (presently up to more than 14%) that are simply printed.
Printing is a simple, fast, and robust coating process that eliminates the need for expensive high-vacuum chambers and the kinds of high-vacuum based deposition techniques sometimes used in industries where there are a lot more $/sqm available for competitive manufacturing cost.
Our 1GW CIGS coater cost $1.65 million. At the 100 feet-per-minute speed shown in the video, that’s an astonishing two orders of magnitude more capital efficient than a high-vacuum process: a twenty times slower high-vacuum tool would have cost about ten times as much.