Right now, the best solar panels can reach a peak efficiency of about 15-20%. This is due to the fact that our current solar technology does not allow the panels to use all available wavelengths of light. For example, in a ray of sunlight, there are many different wavelengths. Many of these we can’t even see with our naked eye. The same goes for solar panels.
Sunrgi, an Israeli based solar panel company, has developed a “concentrated” solar cell that can multiply the wavelengths of light to produce much more solar power on a smaller system. While the company is keeping a tight hold on the technology that allows this advanced solar energy, they predict their new panels will produce a kWh for a mere 7 cents. For the average household, this equates to an electric bill of around $80 per month! This beats what most Americans pay now- well over $200 a month for electricity. Better yet, Sunrgi’s new panels convert a whopping 37% of sunlight to usable solar energy! This is more than double the industry standard. Sunrgi is expecting their first panels out by mid-2009.
The University at Tel Aviv is also making huge advancements in solar panel technology. Researchers there have scrapped the idea of using semiconductors within their solar cells. Instead, they have genetically engineered “proteins using photosynthesis for production of electrical energy”. Commercial production of such a technology is several years down the road, but these panels would cost 100x less than conventional silicone and could produce an efficiency around 25%. This makes these panels very attractive to poorer countries that want to go solar but cannot afford conventional silicone panels.
Another promising technological advancement is the increase in efficiency of thin-film solar panels. These thin film panels use 40% less silicone than conventional polycrystalline panels, and are much less expensive. Unfortunately, they also have less efficiency- around 6%. By the end of 2009, some researchers are estimating they will be able to produce thin film solar cells with efficiency between 8-10%. This makes then more comparable to conventional solar panels. Plus, more people will be able to buy these less inexpensive panels.
Further developments in solar panel technology are in the battery systems you can use alongside your panels. Every year, new batteries come out that last longer and store more energy than ever before. This increases the environmental friendliness of solar technology so that batteries don’t have to be thrown out or recycled as often.
Solar energy may seem expensive, but the long-term benefits are priceless. Where else can you get 25 years of reliable energy costs around $80 a month? Certainly not from your utility company. Solar energy is reliable, has zero carbon emissions and easily pays for itself within 8-10 years of purchasing. For the future of the world’s electric supply, residential solar power systems may be the best answer to a limitless resource: the Sun.