Solar engineers from the University of New South Wales have found a way to increase solar panel efficiency while also substantially reducing cost. The researchers found a way to use hydrogen atoms in solar panels to increase the performance of low grade silicon.
The UNSW engineers were able to find a way to control the charge state of hydrogen atoms in silicon. Hydrogen atoms are more free to move around and chemically bond to defects and contaminants. These are deactivated, which can significantly improve the silicon cell’s efficiency.
The process allows manufacturers to cut costs because they can use lower-quality silicon yet still produce highly efficient cells. This could make a huge impact on costs, because solar-grade silicon is the most expensive component used in the production of solar cells.
The solar panels that are made through the UNSW’s patented technique can have efficiencies between 21 percent and 23 percent, which is a significant difference compared to current commercial solar cell efficiencies of between 17 percent and 19 percent.
Eight commercial firms including main sponsor Suntech have signed up to be a partner in developing the technology to an industrial scale. It would take about AU$15 million over three years to commercialize the technology and UNSW is seeking support from the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency to fund some of that amount.
UNSW’s work on this new technology should add momentum to falling solar panel prices. Solar panel prices have fallen by about 65 percent in two years due in part to high Chinese production. European panel makers are predicting another 60 percent decline in prices by 2020.