Solar concentrators: Research on making solar power cheaper

Solar concentrators aim to increase the efficiency of solar energy generation and a new journal includes features on devices that concentrate the sun's rays.
Written by Christina Hernandez Sherwood, Contributing Writer

A new research publication, launched less than a week after Earth Day, focuses on the impact of light engineering on the environment, green technologies and sustainable energy development. A bi-monthly supplement to Optics Express, the journal of the Optical Society, Energy Express will cover topics from making solar energy economical to providing energy from fusion.

The inaugural issue is dedicated to solar concentrators -- a technology that harnesses the most abundant source of energy available to us: the sun. Solar concentrators aim to increase the efficiency of solar energy generation and the journal includes features on new devices that concentrate the sun's rays and increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Despite its promise, solar power only accounted for about 1 percent of U.S. renewable energy production in 2008, according to the society. Because one of the greatest barriers to popularizing the use of solar power is its cost, industry experts are looking for ways to make its large-scale production cheaper.

How can solar energy become more affordable? By lowering the cost of solar cells or increasing the amount of power they generate, according to the Optical Society. Here are two of the methods, outlined by experts in Energy Express, which could achieve those goals:

Layered solar cell materials

The latest and most efficient solar cells in theNational Renewable Energy Laboratory can achieve efficiencies greater than 40 percent while commercially-available solar panels are currently about 19 percent efficient. The best solar cells could reach 50 percent efficiency with more work, according to the laboratory's Sarah Kurtz and John Geisz.

Solar fuels

Concentrated solar energy can be used to produce clean chemical fuels for the power and transportation sectors, according to Aldo Steinfeld of ETH Zurich and Alan Weimer from the University of Colorado. Thermochemical processes that make use of concentrated solar radiation as an energy source to drive high-temperature endothermic reactions have the potential to achieve high solar-to-fuel energy conversion efficiencies.

Image: False color image showing Earth's solar energy absorption / NASA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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