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Thread: Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time

  1. #1
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    Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time

    http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci...505-2j117.html

    Wow.

    Solar power is getting more efficient and less expensive every quarter.

    "...60% cheaper by 2020..."

    Wow.


    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.


    This has really got the industry very excited

    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.

    “This has really got the industry very excited, not only in China, but elsewhere as well,” said Richard Corkish, head of the university’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering. Alumni of the school hold senior positions at many of the leading PV producers globally.

    Separately, the UNSW's Martin Green, dubbed the "father of photovoltaics" for his work to develop and commercialise silicon solar cell technologies, was last week elected into the UK's renowed Royal Society.

    Professor Green, whose work includes overseeing research teams and setting the current 25 per cent conversion efficiency record for solar PV, joins 1,450 of the world's top scientists as a Royal Society Fellow.

    Prices tumble

    The price of solar panels has fallen by about 65 per cent in two years, partly due to a huge rise in production in China. Australians have been taking advantage of lower prices, with the number of homes with solar panels exceeding 1 million.

    The phenomenal growth has caused some casualties in the industry as companies have taken on massive debt to expand supply, then struggled with falling prices in saturated markets. Notable among them is the recent debt default by Suntech Power, once the world's largest solar-panel maker, founded by former University of NSW researcher Shi Zhengrong.

    Panel prices are predicted to fall much further. European producers predict they will be 60 per cent cheaper by 2020. "Based on the technological advances we're making, we think that's certainly achievable," Dr Wenham said.

    Eight commercial firms have signed up to be a partner in developing the technology to an industrial scale, including Suntech, which continues to operate from its base in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi and has a research unit in Sydney.

    "It's the kind of advance that other people are anticipating is a decade away,'' Suntech R&D Australia managing director Renate Egan said. "It is quite a breakthrough."

    Funding

    Suntech funded much of the early work, including in China. “Suntech has the right to use that (intellectual property) and UNSW has the right to licence the technology to third parties,” Dr Egan said.

    Funding to help commercialise the technology will total about $15 million over three years, with the UNSW seeking support from the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency for part of that sum.

    The annual funding of $5 million – equivalent to what bidders last month paid for the half-brother of champion race mare Black Caviar – is “a lot of money for us”, Dr Corkish said.

    Already worth about $100 billion a year, the solar industry is expected to swell to about $140 billion by 2018, according to estimates published in April by Transparency Market Research.

    Installed PV capacity probably surpassed 100 gigawatts, worldwide, in the March quarter, according to the International Energy Agency. Some forecasts project capacity will more than triple by the end of the decade. Australia ranked ninth, with installed capacity of 2.4 GW, at the end of 2012.


  2. #2
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    So you are saying that by 2020 it might be economically viable?

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Trades View Post
    So you are saying that by 2020 it might be economically viable?
    Doubtful. The industry is almost totally subsidized at current, and there is little indication that this will materially change in the next decade or so, barring a truly meaningful development in the technology.

    With that said, we should expect a much stronger regulatory push towards this and other more expensive, but green, energy sources as the percieved costs come down.

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    I'm all for alternative energy and independence. But the technology is far from there yet. Those that say it is efficient is lying. They just tested a plane the runs on no fuel. It only takes 10 times longer to get to the destination..

  5. #5
    With solar its all about costs right now. If this breakthrough is legit it will be a big boost. Meanwhile even after the 50% drop over the past few years and even with massive subsidies of over 50% to purchase the panels today there is still a 10+ year payback. They need to get that number down to 3-4 years to really have something. My opinion is that every house that is in a sunny climate should have solar panels it just needs to be more affordable.

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    I am beginning to believe that we are saving all our oil for the Chinese.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiefst2000 View Post
    With solar its all about costs right now. If this breakthrough is legit it will be a big boost. Meanwhile even after the 50% drop over the past few years and even with massive subsidies of over 50% to purchase the panels today there is still a 10+ year payback. They need to get that number down to 3-4 years to really have something. My opinion is that every house that is in a sunny climate should have solar panels it just needs to be more affordable.
    At what expense and who should foot the bill? I don't think the government should be funding any of these solutions including oil.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Trades View Post
    At what expense and who should foot the bill? I don't think the government should be funding any of these solutions including oil.
    The best way to make it more affordable is to reduce the manufacturing cost of which this article claims a breakthrough. I'm leary of government subsidies for anything and everything but if it needs to happen DEMAND side stimulus is much more efficient that the SUPPLY side stimulus we saw in the omnibus Obama stimulus fiasco. Instead of funding companies belonging to large donors and people with political influence the money is much better served as a demand side stimulus like the solar power programs currently in place. That way when Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and solarfun go bankrupt the taxpayers aren't out billions.

    There is a societal benefit to more solar, less pollution and less reliance on foreign energy sources. It is worth some subsidies IF they are done correctly.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by DDNYjets View Post
    I am beginning to believe that we are saving all our oil for the Chinese.
    This statement just gave me a thought. Imagine if the real reason Democrats always block new oil exploration was because they strategically believe that sometime down the line once peak oil comes and goes and world supplies are drying up, that we will have all this untapped resource at our fingertips and will use it to once again dominate the world economically. The whole global warming carbon footprint excuse was just made up to provide cover and keep other countries from knowing our real plans. That would be epic.

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    Good.

    90% of our energy came from the sun originally. You'd have to be pretty ignorant to think that going straight to the source. You know. The giant orange ball in the sky that puts out more energy in the form of light every 10 seconds than mankind has used during their entire existence.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by PlumberKhan View Post
    Good.

    90% of our energy came from the sun originally. You'd have to be pretty ignorant to think that going straight to the source. You know. The giant orange ball in the sky that puts out more energy in the form of light every 10 seconds than mankind has used during their entire existence.
    Could that also be the source of "global warming"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DeanPatsFan View Post
    Could that also be the source of "global warming"?
    Could be.

    But then again...why is Venus have a higher surface temperature than Mercury even though its 31 million miles further away than Mercury is.

    Hmmmmm.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PlumberKhan View Post
    Good.

    90% of our energy came from the sun originally. You'd have to be pretty ignorant to think that going straight to the source. You know. The giant orange ball in the sky that puts out more energy in the form of light every 10 seconds than mankind has used during their entire existence.
    LOL. Can you name me an example where it is being used more efficiently than other energy sources? It's not there yet.... But we can keep trying.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeanPatsFan View Post
    Could that also be the source of "global warming"?
    +1

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    Quote Originally Posted by 24 View Post
    LOL. Can you name me an example where it is being used more efficiently than other energy sources? It's not there yet.... But we can keep trying.
    Thanks for making my point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Churchill View Post
    Doubtful. The industry is almost totally subsidized at current, and there is little indication that this will materially change in the next decade or so, barring a truly meaningful development in the technology.

    With that said, we should expect a much stronger regulatory push towards this and other more expensive, but green, energy sources as the percieved costs come down.
    Translation: "I did not read the article"


    for the record the entire US energy industry is subsidized.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiefst2000 View Post
    This statement just gave me a thought. Imagine if the real reason Democrats always block new oil exploration was because they strategically believe that sometime down the line once peak oil comes and goes and world supplies are drying up, that we will have all this untapped resource at our fingertips and will use it to once again dominate the world economically. The whole global warming carbon footprint excuse was just made up to provide cover and keep other countries from knowing our real plans. That would be epic.
    Petroleum is also used in pharmaceuticals and plastics among many other things. But we choose to burn most of it up going to the 7eleven to buy Gatorade.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 24 View Post
    I'm all for alternative energy and independence. But the technology is far from there yet. Those that say it is efficient is lying. They just tested a plane the runs on no fuel. It only takes 10 times longer to get to the destination..
    I for one find it amazing that an airplane can fly across the USA just powered by sunlight.

    To me that is an awesome engineering feat

  19. #19
    Don't know if this is pertinent but out here the sun is out most days, there just aren't that many days where it is overcast or whatever. Even in the dead of winter there is still a lot of sunlight - just looking outside now its very bright outside, and its obviously mid-Autumn/Fall here.

    Guess what I'm saying is Australia is the perfect place for solar technology - not so sure about places in the northern hemisphere.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soberphobia View Post
    Don't know if this is pertinent but out here the sun is out most days, there just aren't that many days where it is overcast or whatever. Even in the dead of winter there is still a lot of sunlight - just looking outside now its very bright outside, and its obviously mid-Autumn/Fall here.

    Guess what I'm saying is Australia is the perfect place for solar technology - not so sure about places in the northern hemisphere.
    =============================================

    You all, as I understand do a lot of rain water recovery also.

    How is that working out, I live in a wet area and am doing a rain water recovery project for a commercial building and toying with promoting the idea and marketing my business in that direction.

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