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Power Science Technology

80% Improvement In Solar Cell Efficiency 204

An anonymous reader writes "Chemistry researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory say they've improved the efficiency of typical solar cells by a whopping 80% by creating a 3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform. The technology tackles the problem of poor transport of charges generated by solar photons. These charges — 'negative electrons and positive holes' — typically become trapped by defects in bulk materials and degrade performance. 'We designed the three-dimensional structure to provide an intrinsic electric field distribution that promotes efficient charge transport and high efficiency in converting energy from sunlight into electricity.' Bottom line, they say, is they've boosted the light-to-power conversion efficiency of photovoltaics by 80 percent."
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80% Improvement In Solar Cell Efficiency

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  • Misleading title (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vsage3 ( 718267 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:45PM (#35979260)

    With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

    So the efficiencies went from awful to slightly less awful.

  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:47PM (#35979276) Homepage

    To be pedantic, they have boosted the efficiency of LOUSY solar cells.
    They've taken a 1.8% efficient solar cell and turned it into a 3.2% cell.

    I wish the world's press offices would declare a moratorium on announcing breakthroughs in solar technology.

  • Re:Yawn (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:54PM (#35979394) Homepage Journal

    Because like the rest of the world, slashdot can't care about pure research, but instead only what can be put on a shelf and advertised by google now now! now!!!!?

  • Re:Fantastic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:57PM (#35979424) Homepage Journal

    But innovations like this are exactly why solar efficiency has, in fact, slowly but steadily improved over the last couple of decades.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @04:59PM (#35979446)

    From the fine article: "With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency..."

    So, with a ridiculously bad solar cell, they could increase the efficiency to something that's still ridiculously bad.

    Exactly. It was miserably inefficient previously, and now now its 180% of miserable.
    If the same techniques could work on the top-end PRODUCTION solar cells, which hover around 20% you could perhaps approach 35%.
    But the whole idea of % efficiency is fraught with peril. [wikipedia.org] which is why people usually revert to dollars per watt per square meter or some such.

  • Re:Yawn (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Amouth ( 879122 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @05:02PM (#35979474)
    its not that we are impatient..  BUT the fact the solar cells that are available today are basically the same as the ones 15 years ago and the new tech is always 5 years off every damn year..  its mainly that we all know that there are reasons we don't see these things and it has to do with making other people more money..

    i have zero problem with pure research.. just when it's just wonderful and they try to play it off that it will save the world or help us in the next so many years..  then it never shows up...  yea nothing seems to change.. 
  • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @05:06PM (#35979510)

    Dollars per square meter (or perhaps kilowatt-hour) is the only really relevant measure. Once it's cheaper to make electricity this way it will take off.

  • by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @05:07PM (#35979534)

    While I appreciate your snarky cynicism, Mr. Landis, not every advance in the world is measured in miraculous breakthroughs. Some things are hard and just improve incrementally through the hard work of people that give a shit. They work hard and figure out how to make things better a bit at a time. That's in contrast to the people that just sit back and do nothing while waiting for the miraculous breakthroughs. While asshats the world over snicker because these solar cells are "slightly less lousy", the people that give a shit will continue to bust their asses to make things better until the day when they cross the line that defines a "massively viable" solar cell. Then the critics will jump on board and ride the wave as if they had everything to do with it and were believers all along. Now THAT'S depressing and worthy of cynicism.

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @05:21PM (#35979670) Journal

    This is the edition for the managers... they like big numbers when talking increases.

  • by lazn ( 202878 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @05:35PM (#35979798)

    efficiency doesn't matter to me at all. Price / watt does

    I don't care if they are 100% efficient if they cost $20billion / watt.

    But show me one that is cheap enough to afford to cover my roof with that the end total wattage is enough to cover something close to my power use (or more) and I'll do it.

    The % efficiency make absolutely no difference to me at all, zip, zero, nada. DON"T CARE!

  • Re:Yawn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday April 29, 2011 @07:06PM (#35980706)

    That's all good and fine, but an article claiming that solar PV cells are 80% more efficient come up on Slashdot about once a month, each using a different method. Yet the cells we have today are nearly as grossly inefficient as they were 15 years ago. I'm glad price is moving forward, but even if in 15 years time panels are free if I still need to blanket the entire roof with shiny panels that have a high carbon footprint to produce, then really what's the point.

    What we need is for these efficient cells to finally come to the market. I would gladly pay 8 times the money for a solar panel if I need only 1 instead of 8, and the associated manufacturing carbon footprint would be reduced as well. Sadly this reality seems as far away as fusion power, perpetually another 5-10 years.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.