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New Solar Cell System 40 Percent More Efficient

Dec 08, 2014 12:34 PM EST

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have found a new way to use solar cells that makes them more efficient, according to a breakthrough study.

"This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity," UNSW Professor Martin Green said in a statement.

It was considered a great feat back in 1989 when researchers created the first photovoltaic system to convert sunlight to electricity with over 20 percent efficiency, and now the UNSW team has doubled this performance.

The key of the prototype's design isn't in the solar cells themselves, but in how the researchers used them. A custom optical bandpass filter - which reflects certain wavelengths of light while transmitting others - is able to capture sunlight that is normally wasted by commercial solar cells. Thanks to the filter, solar cells can now achieve 40 percent efficiency.

"We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry," added Dr. Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist who managed the project.

The record efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

Australian scientists now hope that their technique can pioneer the solar cell industry and lead to more efficient commercial solar plants, making "renewable energy cheaper" and "increasing its competitiveness," according to ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht.

The new approach will be described in an upcoming paper in the journal Progress in Photovoltaics. It will also be presented at the Australian PV Institute's Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference, which begins at UNSW Monday, Dec. 8.

This isn't the first breakthrough in solar energy to happen recently. Just this week a team at the University of Toronto found a way to spray on solar cells to virtually any surface, without compromising efficiency.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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