Solar panels to go 3D
Solar panels firm uses 3D technologies from fiber optics to create more efficient solar panels.
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With the solar energy industry booming, companies large and small continue to look for ways to squeeze efficiencies out of decades-old technology. So why not 3D technology?
“Our inspiration comes from fiber optics,” says Solar3D CEO Jim Nelson. “They manage the light to make it do what they want it to do, versus [flat] solar [panels] that just takes it as it comes.”
Though the first solar photovoltaic PV panels were installed in the U.S. in 1970s, the majority of systems installed today don't look that much different: flat-glass panels pointed at the best possible angle toward the sun.
That surface, however, means sunlight photons can pass through only once — and either hit an energy-generating cell or miss it, thus passing though unused.
Nelson says his firm’s technology uses 3D microcells that trap sunlight, allowing those photons to “bounce around” until they are all converted into electricity.
“We’re plugging the leak in [solar-panel] efficiency through absorption,” he says, “We believe our Solar3D cell can deliver an unprecedented level of cost and conversion efficiency.”
The firm’s idea has some admirers and potential customers.
“I find the concept intriguing,” says Bill Mazotti, solar technology business unit director for National Semiconductor, adding that the “tremendous pressures on costs” of solar energy make any potential increase in efficiency welcome.
Various industry estimates show that about a third of the sunlight is lost to reflection. Nelson claims Solar3D’s technology could collect nearly 100 percent of that sunlight and convert it to power.
But even with that potential level of efficiency, sector analysts point out that solar power innovation is happening on a lot of fronts, meaning any startup will face headwinds.