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Swiss Federal Lab Claims New World Record For Solar Cell Efficiency 177

Zothecula writes "Scientists based at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have set a new efficiency record for thin-film copper indium gallium (di)selenid (or CIGS) based solar cells on flexible polymer foils, reaching an efficiency of 20.4 percent. This is an increase from a previous record of 18.7 percent set by the team back in 2011."
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Swiss Federal Lab Claims New World Record For Solar Cell Efficiency

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  • Re:Crap (Score:5, Informative)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @02:36PM (#42649249)

    Not only are gasoline engines inefficient, they require fuel be trucked to stations wasting even more fuel.

    Transmission losses like that just make it even worse.

  • Re:Again? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @03:02PM (#42649589)

    Right. The current record for all solar cells is 44%. 27% has been achieved without rare materials.

    When you see indium and gallium in the materials list, it's not going to be a high-volume product.

    Quite the opposite. See: []

  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @03:04PM (#42649607)

    This will revolutionise electricity generation in such diverse fields as, uh... space craft and... um... space stations.

    Aerospace uses non-flexible crystalline at about twice the power output, because what matters is more or less watts/Kg. For non-panel satellites with cells mounted right on the satellite body, what really matters is watts/sq meter.

    Now you need flexible cells for ... um...

    Easy of manufacturing, for one, but more importantly the cost of manufacture (watts/$) is very, very low.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 21, 2013 @03:10PM (#42649679)

    Before somebody brings up 40% efficient cells, this efficiency is for a single layer. The 40%+ efficiencies are for so called multiple junction cells which are basically several solar cells stacked on top of one another. This record is for a single layer, for which 20% is really good.

    Also, comparisons with petrol engines efficiency are kinda pointless since the advantages and disadvantages of solar is environmental impact and cost respectively. Nobody really cares if it is more or less efficient than petrol. What people are concerned about is environmental impact and cost, which are not easily compared by looking at the efficiency.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @03:11PM (#42649689)

    You forgot one little thing, a solar powered car does not have to have the solar panels on it. The solar energy can be captured somewhere else and then the car can be recharged with this power.

    Much like your current gasoline powered car does not have to drill a well every time you can to fill up.

  • Re:Crap (Score:4, Informative)

    by iamhassi ( 659463 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @03:56PM (#42650259) Journal

    And typically get most of their power from coal.

    You could stick a couple of square meters of solar panels on a typical car, which at 20% efficiency would give you about 240W on a sunny day. For a half-hour commute (fifteen minutes each way) and eight hours in the car park, that would give you about five horsepower if the battery is 100% efficient and you didn't need to use any other electrical items, like AC or headlights.

    So it's potentially possible, but would be a really crappy drive.

    Nissan Leaf gets 4.5 miles per kWh. [] So every hour of charging would get about 1 mile, assuming your math is correct.

  • Re:Crap (Score:5, Informative)

    by spiralx ( 97066 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @05:57PM (#42651337)

    Something that is fungible means any one instance of it can be swapped with any other instance of it without changing its effects - electricity is electricity, whether it comes from a solar panel on your roof or a nuclear power plant via the grid. []

  • Re:Crap (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 21, 2013 @07:06PM (#42651929)

    The fukushima evacuation zone has a 19km radius. Half of which is sea, so this gives around 500km2 of evacuated area.
    The Golmud Solar Park in China with a similar latitude produces 317GWh per year on 5.64km2 and costed around 500 million dollars.
    So on 500km2 you would produce 28'000 GWh per year and it would cost 44 billion dollars.
    Fukushima produced according to wikipedia 29'891 GWh in the year 2009. Building a 4'800 MW nuclear reactor would cost you around 15 billion dollars. But if you include insurance, waste dispossal, dismanteling and opperating costs, you double or tripple this cost.
    So your correct it would produce less energy per year, but only slightly. And the overall cost would probably be higher but also only slightly.

  • Re:Crap (Score:3, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @07:23PM (#42652069)

    Which would be great, if you leave your car in the garage all day. Most of us drive around, so if the panels aren't on the car to keep it charged they're utterly useless to us.

    I can't decide whether this was a joke or not. For the benefit of those who might not take it that way, I'll point out that these cars have batteries that allow them to collect energy from their garages and (gasp!) drive around with it.

    I can't decide whether this was a joke either.

    For the benefit of those who might not take it that way, I'll point out that if you actually use your car in the daytime, it's not going to be in the garage charging while the sun is up, it's going to be...elsewhere....

  • Re:Crap (Score:5, Informative)

    by tragedy ( 27079 ) on Monday January 21, 2013 @08:31PM (#42652589)

    Ok, let's do the math. Total electrical consumption (not all energy usage, just electrical) for the US is about 480 gigawatts. Average insolation is about 1 kw per square meter. At 10% efficiency, that means about 100 watts for every square meter of panel. That means you need 4.8 billion square meters of panels. 4.8 billion square meters can fit into a square 69.282 kilometers on a side. That's somewhere between the size of Rhode Island and Delaware.

    Even if you expand that to all energy usage, not just electrical, you're talking approximately 3 terrawatts. So, that's about 30 billion square meters of panels. That's a square about 173.2 kilometers on a side. That's somewhere between the size of Maryland and Hawaii.

    So, if you actually sit down and DO the math, you can easily cover US electrical requirements and, in fact the total US energy usage (not counting food energy and not considering the fact that much of that energy usage can't currently be converted to electrical) without coming remotely close to covering the US with solar panels.

    Of course, if you'd actually done the math on your own claims, you would have realized that, when you claimed that you could "optimistically" supply 7.5% of the US's electrical supply with 0.01% of the surface area, that would mean that you could "optimistically" supply 100% of the electrical supply with 0.133334% of the surface area, or even pessimistically (let's pretend that the difference between "optimistic" and pessimistic is an order of magnitude) with 1.33334% of the surface area.

    So, it's pretty clear that you either didn't do the math yourself, or you just decide to bluff. If you meant something else, like that there are logistical problems in covering that much area, then say so.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson