Solar technologies - big and small

2015 is the International Year of Light and Light Based Technologies, so here are a couple of stories about solar technologies.

World record set

Late in 2014, researchers at the University of NSW  set a world record by developing solar panels that convert 40% of solar energy into electricity. Conventional household solar panels convert around 15% of light into electricity. The 40% conversion target is significant as it is similar to the efficiency of the most efficient conventional coal-fired power stations.

The new solar panel technology was developed by a team of researchers that included ATSE Fellow Professor Martin Green, who is known as the ‘father of photovoltaics’.

These  solar panels are designed to be used for large-scale electricity production using ‘power towers’. Mirrors are used to concentrate the light onto the solar panel, and special filters on the front of the panel capture wavelengths of sunlight normally wasted in other solar panels. You can find out more on page 13 of the February edition of ATSE's publication, Focus.

Safe lighting for developing countries

On a much smaller scale, there are several organisations working to provide solar-powered LED lighting for developing countries. Typically in these countries, where the dwellings are 'off-grid', the only form of lighting is from kerosene lamps. These lamps provide only a low level of lighting and are not bright enough to allow students study after dark. In addition, kerosene lamps are believed to lead to the deaths of about 1.5 million people a year from either respiratory illness resulting from inhalation of the kerosene smoke, or through accidental fires.

This is an example of small-scale solar technology making a huge impact on people’s lives.

You can see a case study of an Australian organisation, Barefoot Power on the STELR website and there is more information about a Canadian organisation, Light Up The World on the International Year of Light website.