Book-sized solar panels could power a whole home in new breakthrough

27 Jul 2018

Image: kkays2/Shutterstock

In our efforts to make solar panels even more efficient, a team of scientists has found a way of funnelling the sun’s power.

The technology around solar power is experiencing a major boom at the moment, with it now increasingly becoming cheaper to run than traditional fossil fuel energy sources in some instances.

But it is still a long way from achieving the efficiency we want it to, which has led a team of scientists to develop a pioneering new technique that could effectively ‘funnel’ solar energy in greater amounts than before.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, the team from the University of Exeter detailed its breakthrough, which could see the potential for three times the amount of solar energy generated than traditional systems.

This, the team believes, could see the creation of solar panels that are no bigger than a book being used to power an entire home.

“The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container – as we all know, it is much more efficient if we use a funnel,” said Adolfo de Sanctis, lead author of the paper.

“However, such charge funnels cannot be realised with conventional semiconductors, and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled this discovery.”

Key ingredient

The physicists achieved this major feat with a chip made from an atomically thin semiconductor called hafnium disulphide, which was oxidised with a high-intensity UV laser.

The team was then able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of the chip, where they can be more easily extracted.

Breaking it down into figures, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60pc of the raw power of the sun into usable solar energy, compared with 20pc found in existing systems.

Until this technology can be implemented into existing panels, innovators such as Eden Full Goh are attempting to find ways of overcoming the challenge that Earth’s rotation around the sun poses for harnessing solar energy.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic