New solar panels which produce five times more energy

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Solar PanelThere has been a lot of talk lately about the pros and cons of using photovoltaics on the roofs of homes in order to generate electricity. Given the amount of sunshine, which Malta receives throughout the year, this would seem like an ideal solution to cut down on the use of fossil fuels for energy generation.

There are however problems not the least of which is the cost of installation. Another problem is the efficiency of the system and whether or not the total outlay can be repaid during the typical life of the system. It would seem therefore that if the cost of these solar solutions could come down, coupled with an increase in efficiency and hopefully sensible Government grants towards the costs, they may become viable.

To that end I wanted to pass on something I was reading about in the Technology Review published by MIT. The article concerns a new form of photovoltaics called ‘concentrating photovoltaics.’ IBM is developing this at the moment and other firms are also working on similar ideas. Energy from the sun, although abundant, is diffuse and this effects the overall efficiency of the system. The basic principle of concentrating photovoltaics is that the rays of the sun are concentrated through a lens and directed onto a solar cell.

IBM have said that using this method they can create five times more energy than in a normal system and that one square centimetre of solar cell produces as much as 230 watts of energy which is far more efficient than anything seen before in solar technology. Compared to what are being produced today these will be a lot cheaper since most of the unit would be comprised of cheap lenses or reflectors rather than solar cells. It also means that since less would be required more efficient solar cells could be used.

As I said earlier other firms are also working on this and related technology and it’s only a matter of time before cheaper and more efficient home units become available. The main problem they are facing at the moment is in regard to cooling the systems as the concentrated sunlight produces extremely high temperatures but they are working alongside engineers who specialise in cooling computer chips to try and overcome this.

James A. Tyrrell,
5 Lower Cairncastle Road,
County Antrim,
N. Ireland BT40 1PG

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