January 25, 2011
Cheaper Full Spectrum Solar Cells Developed

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley lab have discovered a very manufacturable way to produce photovoltaic (PV) solar cells that can convert the Sun's full spectrum of light into electricity.

Although full-spectrum solar cells have been made, none yet have been suitable for manufacture at a consumer-friendly price. Now Wladek Walukiewicz, who leads the Solar Energy Materials Research Group in the Materials Sciences Division (MSD) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), and his colleagues have demonstrated a solar cell that not only responds to virtually the entire solar spectrum, it can also readily be made using one of the semiconductor industry’s most common manufacturing techniques.

The new design promises highly efficient solar cells that are practical to produce. The results are reported in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters, available online to subscribers.

Using more of the solar spectrum could help reduce PV costs. Higher efficiency is especially valuable for space satellites where launch costs are such a big factor. Higher efficiency reduces the area of PV panel that has to get launched into space.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 25 10:35 PM  Energy Solar

Malcolm Linde said at January 26, 2011 8:40 AM:

Photovoltaic cells could be 100% efficient and given away free of charge, and still not be appropriate for large scale input to power grids. All of this talk about "full spectrum" is beside the point. Full spectrum is helpful for machine vision applications, but for photovoltaics other factors are far more important.

Fat Man said at January 26, 2011 9:51 AM:

Malcolm: word.

Until they solve that thing with the sun being eaten by the giant crocodile every night, solar will be a bit player, useful only for remote low demand locations.

Thin man said at January 26, 2011 11:58 AM:

No fat man, they just need to solve storage, and Dan Nocera's group at MIT is already commercializing a promising way to do it. I'm convinced solar will be the dominant form of enegry in the future.

James Bowery said at January 26, 2011 2:35 PM:

Although they don't tell ("journalists" never do) it is highly likely that the marginal specific power for the additional crystalline layers is very high. (The real metric for space solar power is specific power, not areal power.)

One critical question in my mind is the relative radiation tolerances of this material vs GaN and GaAs.

Nick G said at January 26, 2011 4:18 PM:

James Bowery,

Wouldn't a proper measurement of specific power for a satellite application include supporting structures, which would be directly related to the areal power?

Fat Man,

People have been known to sleep while that crocodile is doing it's thing.

philw1776 said at January 27, 2011 6:43 AM:

Don't forget that the cost of this "real soon now" full spectrum solar will need to include the mythical MIT storage mechanism as well. Lots of really smart people have spent lots of effort looking for viable ways to store electricity. Sometimes the real universe is very stubborn and restrictive in what it allows us. Color me seriously skeptical; however I AM glad folks are working on these issues.

anonyq said at January 27, 2011 10:38 AM:

You don't need to solve the storage problem for solar electricity until it reaches more than a 1/4 of the total electricity consumption which would mean a 100X increase in solar energy. Solar is also not the only method to produce electricity that has this storage problem. Nuclear for instance isn't economical above 60% without storage

Nick G said at January 27, 2011 12:44 PM:

Not to mention that a lot of night time electrical demand is only there because power is cheaper at night (steel mills, etc). If cheap solar power actually made daytime electricity cheaper than nighttime power, all of that demand would rush back to the daytime.

Handling variation in supply and demand by building stuff (generating plants, storage, etc) is an old-fashioned paradigm. It's time utilities thought outside the box (and we changed their capex ROI profitability structure), and used the far cheaper Demand Side Management techniques that are time-tested and workable.

Bruce said at January 27, 2011 8:32 PM:

Betcha the solar panels in NY are generating a lot of power.

Lucky their are still a few coal plants operating.

By the way, what happens to solar panels during a Tambora style eruption? Especially when the coal plants have been shut down by the EPA?


anonyq said at January 28, 2011 1:09 AM:

During a Tambora style eruption power consumption goes way down as all the factories etc are closed. But at least solar still works unlike the power plants who use steam as the cooling water inlet is clogged by the as.

Bruce said at January 28, 2011 7:40 AM:

The US was a long, long way from Tambora, so ash was not a problem.

However, the huge amount of sulphate aerosols did dim the sun.

"In the spring and summer of 1816, a persistent dry fog was observed in the northeastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the "fog"."

anonyq said at January 28, 2011 12:28 PM:

I just read a story about the Yellowstone caldera so my answer had that in my mind. But that is not important. What you are demanding is a perfect solution even for such rare conditions as a Tambora style event. That doesn't exist in real life.

Bruce said at January 28, 2011 2:42 PM:

"That doesn't exist in real life."

No snow? Ever? No Mt St Helens ever? No sandstorms in the desert?

Solar is so faaarrrrr from perfect. Look what happend to the UK deciding that Wind would be useful and they get 2% of capacity during the coldest weather the UK has seen ... if more of their grid had been wind it would have been a total disaster.

Quit squandering money on feel good projects that don't work 100% of the time.

anonyq said at January 29, 2011 4:03 AM:

The perfect solution doesn't exist in real life

Bruce said at January 29, 2011 8:36 AM:

Thermal Power plants that run on NG or coal depending on which is cheaper is best.

There is so much Shale Gas being discovered. The are hundreds of years worth being discovered.

France just found 20 years worth, India, China, Israel .... on top of the massive amounts found in the US.

anonyq said at January 29, 2011 8:46 AM:

You want to claim that NG is the perfect solution?

ps. 20 years isn't much. An NG power station has an economic life of 40 year or so

Bruce said at January 29, 2011 11:13 AM:

20 years worth from one field. And they already import it all. Now they won't have to import any for 20 years.


"The gas has a rough value at today's price of 20 euro cents per cubic metre which means an annual cost of 8.8 billion euros can be subtracted from the French balance of payments. Then, apart from any associated jobs, France would collect over 3 billion euros per year in corporation tax."


BioBob said at February 1, 2011 11:31 AM:

They could put solar sats in space with really long wires to send the power down..... then the sun doesn't get eaten by the croc. LOL

I agree, natural gas and coal are the price bender elephants in the room. The hard shale reserves in the USA are enough to power us for over 100 years and then there is this:

Natural Gas Turbines
"They can be particularly efficient—up to 60%—when waste heat from the gas turbine is recovered by a heat recovery steam generator to power a conventional steam turbine in a combined cycle configuration"


alan ward said at June 8, 2011 6:03 PM:

this is full spectrum these disasters that block the sun only block some of radiation falling on them so they still work even at a minium at night so.if truely full spectrum.this is the way they work.good work as for batteries redox flow and or gell work to store twice as much.

alan ward said at December 20, 2012 6:22 PM:

Full spectrum plus hydrogen opening markets, and may add,to the average home buyer.costs and taxs revenue.

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