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Solar power on track to be world's largest electricity source by 2050

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 7, 2014
With up to 100 MW being added each day worldwide, photovoltaic energy could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050.

Using that scenario, the analysis found that shareholder earnings fell by 8% for the Southwest utility and by 15% for the Northeast utility using the 10% photovoltaic (PV) rooftop panel market penetration assumption. However, earnings fell by as much as 13% and 41%, respectively, under certain other conditions.

New solar technologies hold promise
Several technologies are poised to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells, the technology that turns the sun's rays into electricity. Currently, silicon-based PVs have an efficiency rating of about 20%, meaning 80% of the solar radiation that hits a rooftop panel is lost.

MIT, meanwhile, published a report on a new a material that could be ideal for converting solar energy into heat by tuning the material's spectrum of absorption just right.

"It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth's surface from the sun, but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process," an MIT press release stated.

The material is a two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal and has the additional benefits of absorbing sunlight from a wide range of angles and withstanding extremely high temperatures - up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

The new material first converts the sun's energy into heat, which then causes the material to glow, emitting light that can, in turn, be converted to an electric current.

Perhaps most importantly to the cost of a solar energy system is that the material can also be made cheaply at large scales, MIT stated. Since the material can absorb sunlight efficiently from a wide range of angles, "we don't really need solar trackers," said Jeffrey Chou, one of nine researchers who created the material.

Solar trackers are what move solar panels installed in a large field in the direction of the sun to maximize power production.

MIT is not alone in developing new, more efficient photovoltaic materials.

Ohio State University announced what it's referring to as the world's first solar battery.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, combines a battery and a solar cell.

The device works by using a solar panel created with a mesh material that allows electrons to pass on to a battery electrode. The light from the solar panel and oxygen play a part in a chemical reaction that charges the battery, according to Ohio State.

Yiying Wu, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, said the photovoltaic/battery combination would reduce the cost of solar power systems by as much as 25% over time.

"The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy," Wu said in the report. "We've integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost."


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