Arrival of High-Efficiency Solar Panels
Recently, solar panels have become a common sight on roofs, even in regular residential areas. Can you guess what percentage of the sun’s energy is converted into electricity by solar panels?
Standard panels using silicon-based solar cells regularly convert around 17%-19% of the sun’s energy into electricity. It is possible to manufacture solar panels with a higher conversion efficiency of around 40%, but expensive. Thus, advanced panels are used in specialized roles, such as supplying power to spacecraft.
Additionally, as conventional technologies slowly mature, the average efficiency of commercially-available solar panels has increased by only 3.5% over the past 15 years. Given this slow progress, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)’s start-up company Insolight has made a big splash by developing panels with a conversion efficiency of 29%.
Their panels employ multi-junction photovoltaic cells, similar to those used in spacecraft. These panels should be costly because they use cells similar to those in spacecraft, but an accessible price is achieved by technology obtaining optimal performance while covering only 0.5% of the surface area, not the entire panel.
While systems using this technology are a little more expensive than solar panels using conventional silicon technology, they enable bringing solar panels with high conversion efficiency to the mass market.
The new panels have already been tested for an entire year on a pilot installation at the EPFL, and successfully endured heat waves, winter conditions, and storms. The Insolight CEO has stated that products will be available on the market by 2022, so high conversion efficiency solar panels are likely to appear in the near future. Through this, solar energy can be converted into electricity at greater efficiency, perhaps further enabling people to live off-grid.