An innovative 3D solar-cell design with a radically different architecture which drives down the costs of cell manufacture may define the future of renewable energy as it potentially reduces optical losses within a device, according to UK scientists.
The scientists at the University of Sheffield and energy technology company Power Roll in the UK have demonstrated how a unique architecture based on a surface embossed with micro-grooves could also make solar power more efficient.
The innovative 3D design removes many of the manufacturing process steps required by existing photovoltaics (PV) modules and allows new materials to be used that would not usually be appropriate in regular solar cells.
“There is global interest in using solar cells to generate low carbon, green electricity. The design of the back contacted solar module is both innovative and elegant, and can potentially reduce optical losses within the device,” said professor David Lidzey from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield, who led the research.
“The devices we have demonstrated have a promising efficiency, whereby seven per cent of sunlight power falling onto a single photovoltaic micro-groove device is directly converted to electrical power, this is already around a third of what the best performing but expensive solar cells produce today,” Lidzey said.
Power Roll predicts that solar modules produced using this design will weigh only a fraction of an equivalent-power conventional solar module which could benefit less developed and off grid areas of the world where it is not viable to transport heavy solar panels as well as a wide range of other applications.
Researchers said other benefits of the design include removal of expensive transparent conductive oxides, the use of simple and low cost electrical interconnections and the ability to tune electrical output to match user requirements.
“Over the last 40 years, the majority of solar cells have been based on a conventional flat structure, in which layers of different materials are deposited one upon another to create the solar cell,” said Trevor McArdle, Senior Research Scientist at Power Roll.
“However, we have developed a radically different architecture to make solar cells using a surface patterned by micro-grooves that individually are a fraction of the width of a human hair, McArdle said.
The study was published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.
“We believe that our patented architecture is a game changer. The market opportunities for our solar PV product are significant, including off-grid solutions, commercial and domestic systems, powering the internet of things, portable power generation and military applications. This technology will deliver significant economic and social benefits to end users,” said Neil Spann, CEO of Power Roll.