Australian scientists have found a way of hugely increasing the efficiency of solar panels while substantially reducing their cost.
The University of NSW researchers have come up with improvements in photovoltaic panel design that had not been expected for another decade.
The breakthrough involves using hydrogen atoms to counter defects in silicon cells used in solar panels. As a consequence, poor quality silicon can be made to perform like high quality wafers.
The process makes cheap silicon “actually better than the best-quality material people are using at the moment”, the head of the university’s photovoltaics centre of excellence, Professor Stuart Wenham, said.
Silicon wafers account for more than half the cost of making a solar cell. “By using lower-quality silicon, you can drastically reduce that cost,” he said.
“We’ve been able to figure out what the secret is that enables hydrogen to sometimes work the way people want it to, and sometimes doesn’t.”
At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17 per cent and 19 per cent of the sun’s energy into electricity. UNSW’s technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent.
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