Physicist Bram Hoex and colleagues at Eindhoven University of Technology, together with the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, have developed a process that improves the energy produced by solar panels by six per cent (in relative terms), a new world record in solar cell efficiency.
By using an ultra-thin aluminium oxide layer at the front of the solar cell, Hoex was able to improve the cell’s conversion of sunlight into energy from 21.9 per cent to 23.2 per cent. The record breaking technology was showcased in the USA at a major solar power convention. An improvement of more than 1 per cent (in absolute terms) may at first glance appear modest, but it can enable solar cell manufacturers to greatly increase the performance of their products. The ultra-thin (about 30 nanometers) aluminium oxide film contains unprecedented high levels of built-in negative charges, preventing the significant energy losses that usually escape from the surface of solar cell arrays during the day. It is one of the many innovations developing in the accelerating global solar module industry. A number of major solar cell manufacturers have already shown interest.
The breakthrough takes solar panel technology one step closer in the battle for truly viable and effective sustainable energy. It is hoped that in less than 10 years solar generated power will be as cheap to produce as fossil fuel energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and diminishing the effects of global warming. Applying the ultra-thin film is a low-cost process, meaning solar cell manufacturers can adapt their existing production methods to include it. This will be good news for consumers of solar power systems in the future, especially in developing nations as they struggle to meet the energy demands of growing populations.