Solar energy is among the renewable sources of energy that scientists see as a saving tool to fight global warming. However, solar panels are among those that remain to be an elusive system to generate renewable energy primarily because of their relatively high costs. Sadly, this technology continues to harvest very little of the solar power with its efficiency rate only at 20%. This can be translated to one kilowatt of solar power that can only produce 200 Watts of electrical power.
Now, this team composed of international researchers have finally resolved one of the fundamental concerns surrounding what seems to be a defect of the currently available solar panels. This defect is what limits and degrades the efficiency of harvesting solar power. The problem has been known since the technology was introduced and it was only after 40 years of extensive research that a solution has been found. It involved 270 research papers that all attributed to the problem in solar power, but none of which provided the solution.
“The degradation of the efficiency associated with solar panels has been one of the most studied aspects of science and engineering in the last four decades. Its financial and environmental impacts have played a key role in the importance of finding a solution to the problem that affects its efficiency,” Prof. Tony Peaker said. He is one of the coordinators of the study that has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics. “However, even if some of the best minds in the industry, the solution to the problem remains elusive, until now.”
“In the first few hours of its operation, the efficiency of most solar panels drops from 20% to 18%. The drop of roughly 2% in its efficiency may not seem like a big deal, but if you put together all these drops and the solar panels are responsible for delivering the electrical power demands that exponentially increases, the 2% now means a significant loss,” he further added.
The current experiment uses a multi-disciplinary, theoretical and experimental approach employed by a group of researchers looking into the mechanism responsible for what they identified as Light Induced Degradation (LID). The team has uncovered the existence of what they considered as a material defect that lies dormant within the silicon that is used to manufacture the cells.
As part of the energy-generating process, the electronic charges within the bulk of silicon material are transformed under sunlight. However, the team discovered the “trap” that prevents the flow of electrons to maximize the amount of energy harvested from the sun.
“The flow in the electrons is what determines the amount of the electrical charge collected and delivered to a circuit. Any material or process that impedes this flow reduces the efficiency of the solar cell. We have found the defect. Now, the engineering has to act on a solution to address it,” Dr. Iain Crowe said.