A University of New South Wales (UNSW) research team is converting over 40 percent of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity. The solar cell system has been independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

40 percent is a very big number, the highest solar cell efficiency ever reported.

It isn’t a lab unit working under lights. The new world class efficiency record was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney.

A very proud UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green said, “This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity.”

Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project explains, “We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic ‘power towers’ being developed in Australia,” Professor Green said.

The team allows that a key part of the 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 and convert it to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could. These types of filters reflect particular wavelengths of light while transmitting others.

RayGen's CSPV Power Station. Image Credit: RayGen Resources, Pty Ltd. Click image for the largest view.

RayGen’s CSPV Power Station. Image Credit: RayGen Resources, Pty Ltd. Click image for the largest view.

Power towers are being developed by the Australian company, RayGen Resources, which provided design and technical support for the high efficiency prototype. Another partner in the research was Spectrolab, a U.S.based company that provided some of the cells used in the project.

The 40 percent efficiency milestone is the latest in a long line of achievements by UNSW solar researchers spanning four decades. These include the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20% efficiency in 1989, with the new result doubling this performance.

Funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and supported by the Australia–US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV), ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the achievement is another world first for Australian research and development and further demonstrates the value of investing in Australia’s renewable energy ingenuity.

“We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”

The UNSW team’s achievement for a new efficiency record is expected to be published by the Progress in Photovoltaics journal. It also was to be presented at the Australian PV Institute’s Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference that began at UNSW last week.

Professor Green is not someone to be taken lightly. In some circles he is regarded as the ‘Father of photovoltaics’ as the author of six books on solar cells and numerous papers in the area of semiconductors, microelectronics, optoelectronics and, of course, solar cells.

He has experience as a Director of CSG Solar, a company formed specifically to commercialize the University’s thin-film, polycrystalline-silicon-on-glass solar cell. He leads a group well known for contributions to photovoltaics including the development of the world’s highest efficiency silicon solar cells and the successes of several spin-off companies.

Green’s awards include the 1999 Australia Prize, the 2002 Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize), the 2004 World Technology Award for Energy and the 2007 SolarWorld Einstein Award. He was elected into the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal Society in 2013.

The Aussie’s live in one of the best solar locations on the planet, a huge one, and they know it. We’ll be watching out for the ‘power tower’ idea. It’s a good bet that at 40 percent efficiency the idea will likely get to a pilot demonstrator and will likely amaze us all.


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