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Published on June 21st, 2016 | By: Stephanie Liverani


Solar energy news roundup: Solar cells go ‘green,’ ultrathin, and power 24/7

Published on June 21st, 2016 | By: Stephanie Liverani

[Image above] SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Project is now powering 75,000 homes in Tonopah, Nevada, with nothing but solar energy day and night. Credit: SolarReserve; YouTube



Yesterday’s summer solstice ushered in the official start of the summer season—and with that, the longest day of the year.


And that means those equipped with the best solar energy harvesting and storage solutions had the advantage yesterday when it came to getting the most energy bang for their invested buck. So it’s only fitting that more research on solar energy harvesting seems to get more buzz during these brighter, hotter months.


Last week, scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, said they’re pushing the limits of solar cell performance and were able to achieve the “highest performance ever measured for larger-size perovskite solar cells, reaching over 20% efficiency, matching the performance of conventional thin-film solar cells of similar sizes.”


This week, even more solar energy research is outshining our newsfeeds. Check out the latest solar energy news from around the web and across the globe.


Solar cells go ‘green,’ clean, and cheap.

Researchers at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (IFCO) in Barcelona, Spain, may have found the solution for how to fabricate low-temperature, solution-processed, environmentally friendly inorganic solar cells made with earth-abundant materials. 



A semi-transparent solar cell based on AgBiS2 nanocrystals. Credit: IFCO

The team developed a solution-processed, semi-transparent solar cell based on AgBiS2 nanocrystals, a material based on non-toxic, earth-abundant elements produced in ambient conditions at low temperatures, according to an IFCO press release.


The researchers say “these crystals have shown to be very strong panchromatic absorbers of light and have been further engineered to act as an effective charge-transporting medium for solution-processed solar cells.” Better yet, the processing techniques used to fabricate these solar cells don’t require the typically sophisticated and expensive equipment needed for development.


The research, published in Nature Photonics, is “Solution-processed solar cells based on environmentally friendly AgBiS2 nanocrystals” (DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2016.108).


Ultrathin, flexible solar cells perform under pressure for next-gen wearable tech.

Scientists at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in South Korea have made ultra-thin photovoltaics flexible enough to wrap around a radius as small as 1.4 mm (the size of an average pencil)—a development that could lead to innovations in solar-powered wearables like fitness trackers and smart glasses, according a press release from the American Institute of Physics.



Ultra-thin solar cells are flexible enough to bend around small objects, such as the 1 mm-thick edge of a glass slide. Credit: Juho Kim et al.; APL

Standard photovoltaics  are typically hundreds of times thicker, the release explains. To make such thin devices, the team used semiconductor gallium arsenide to make the cells, then stamped cells directly onto a flexible substrate without using an adhesive that would add to the material’s thickness.


The cells were then “cold welded” to an electrode on the substrate by applying pressure at 170ºC and melting a top layer of material called a photoresist that acts as a temporary adhesive. The photoresist was later peeled away, leaving only the direct metal-to-metal bond.


When put to the test, “the thinner cells are less fragile under bending, but perform similarly or even slightly better,” says Jongho Lee, a GIST engineer working on the project. Lee adds that this technology “can be integrated onto glasses frames or fabric and might power the next wave of wearable electronics.”


The research, published in Applied Physics Letters, is “Ultra-thin flexible GaAs photovoltaics in vertical forms printed on metal surfaces without interlayer adhesives” (DOI: 10.1063/1.4954039).


World’s first solar plant to pump power 24/7 is in Nevada.

Hitting closer to home for those of us in the United States, SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes Project is now powering 75,000 homes in Tonopah, Nevada, with nothing but solar energy day and night.


SolarReserve is a leading global developer of utility-scale solar power projects, which include electricity generation by solar thermal energy and photovoltaic panels. And Crescent Dunes is the first utility-scale facility in the world to use molten salt for energy storage capabilities, a technology also known as “concentrated solar,” according to a recent EcoWatch article.


The solar plant uses more than 10,000 movable mirrors, or heliostats—similar to other large-scale solar projects—to reflect solar energy to a central, 640-ft tower that heats up salt to 1,050ºF, the article explains. The heat stored in the molten salt is used to turn water into steam that powers energy generators.


Check out this video of Crescent Dunes back during its construction!

Credit: SolarReserve; YouTube


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