News

 

As mentioned in one of my last blogs, there will be for sure a break through before 2020 in the storage of electric energy for electric vehicles in order to improve the capacity of the cars and make them able to be used on longer distances.
Another new invention will be in the field of solar energy. For sure we can expect some important steps within the coming years.
A breakthrough in the production of solar cells will make the next generation of solar panels cheaper and safer, and promises to accelerate the development of solar energy over the next decade.

 

Today we are still facing a low efficiency in the transfer of sunlight into electricity. The best figure is currently given by the Fraunhofer institute who claimed an efficiency of 46% [1a]or [1b] under ideal circumstances in a laboratory. However in practice solar panels do not reach an efficiency over 30%.
Scientists at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and at the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) have jointly set a new world record for converting non-concentrated (1-sun) sunlight into electricity using a dual-junction III-V/Si solar cell. (January 2016) The newly certified record conversion efficiency of 29.8 percent was set using a top cell made of gallium indium phosphide developed by NREL, and a bottom cell made of crystalline silicon developed by CSEM using silicon heterojunction technology. The record was published in ‘Solar cell efficiency tables”.[2]
We will never reach 100% , the theoretical maximum can be 85%, but however on an overcast day, tracking the sun doesn’t work, so ~55% is the theoretical maximum. Of course many arguments are there to put a lot of effort in this development.
First of course the natural sources became obsolete and will be completely gone within 50 years. And the upcoming economies also claim the right to access these natural sources.

 

History
Photovoltaics are best known as a method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photovoltaic effect.

The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light exciting electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current. The photovoltaic effect was first observed by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s. The German industrialist Ernst Werner von Siemens was among those who recognized the importance of this discovery. In 1931, the German engineer Bruno Lange developed a photo cell using silver selenide in place of copper oxide, although the prototype selenium cells converted less than 1% of incident light into electricity. Following the work of Russell Ohl in the 1940s, researchers Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin created the silicon solar cell in 1954. These early solar cells cost 286 USD/watt and reached efficiencies of 4.5–6%.

A good overview of the IP in this area can be found in the report from Cambridge IP. Quentin Tannock and his team created an excellent report on Renewable Energy in general. In section 6 (page 25-30) there is a specific overview of all IP related to Solar Power from 2006-2011 (section 6) [3] (not available anymore, copy available on request) The patent filing from 2011 onwards do not show a different view. Still the same companies are leading the IP landscape. (LG, Sharp, Mitsubishi and Panasonic) Although also some Chinese players are coming up now as well. Oceans King Lighting Science (with the Headquarter in Shenzen, China, close to Hong Kong) for instance is very active in the area of organic PV-cells. Interesting to see how many Institutes and Companies are working on Solar Panels and trying to reach a break through. An overview of some developments is available, but is changing almost by the day. (4) All rumours on Solar Energy are collected and interesting to follow (5)

 

What is the impact of low oil prices on the sale of solar panels?
The clean energy revolution is not entirely immune to cheap oil, which has lowered prices at the pump. Low prices of oil are predicted for at least the coming 5 years.[6] “Fossil fuels will be here for decades to come, but their share will fall,” says PwC’s Grant. Even in the transportation sector, where oil is so important, he expects electric vehicles will eventually catch on—but not because of price. Consumers will see them as more “desirable,” he says, noting EV perks such as dedicated parking spots and use of HOV lanes. Besides, he says they promise all sorts of self-driving and gee-whiz tech features, adding: “They’re much cooler.”[7] Most probably finance will be the main argument for people to move over to solar energy. From a moral obligation to improve our climate to a social obligation to provide jobs in a less volatile, safe and clean industry, the reasons are abundant, and they are sound. Solar is a smart investment now, even if oil prices continue to drop or remain at the lowest price in more than a decade. [8]

 

Conclusion
Overlooking the current situation regarding solar panels it seems to be better to wait for some time to see what will come-up. The future is clear, efficiency will improve and prizes will go down, however today is probably not the best time to step-in.

Aalt van de Kuilen

Senior Patent Information Specialist in the field of Life Sciences and Chemistry. Read more about the background and expertise of Aalt van de Kuilen.