Ahoy chums! There ain’t no rest for the wicked or so I’m told by some song, so I can’t let this brief respite of down time go to waste. Thus I have decided to do what I love to do best, or at least love to do sixth or seventh best, and provide you dear readers with a new Fuck Yeah Science article!
This week (or month, let’s be honest here), I’ve decided to touch once again on a subject near and dear to my heart and that is solar power! It is both near AND dear because the topic of solar power, being a generous and gracious mistress, got me that coveted A in my technical writing course a few years back, and so I feel I need to compensate her for it. That and the whole ‘saving the environment’ thing.
From phys.org, “North Carolina State University researchers have come up with a new technique for improving the connections between stacked solar cells, which should improve the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reduce the cost of solar energy production.” Improved efficiency has been the holy grail of photovoltaic (or solar panel type) power generation as it makes solar panels more cost-effective compared to regular energy sources.
See! It’s actually the holy grail! Though this may be more related to the bogus “ethanol revolution” if only the wine were strong enough… (Borrowed from magnificentrevolution.org)
Solar cells are currently manufactured through a process similar to semiconductor chip manufacturing (which is hella-expensive) or through thin-film substrate processing; basically printing material onto rolls of flexible polymer sheets (which is still in its early stages.) Right now though, the most cost-effective method is going round-aboutly. If that is even a word. From the article, “Stacked solar cells consist of several solar cells that are stacked on top of one another. Stacked cells are currently the most efficient cells on the market, converting up to 45 percent of the solar energy they absorb into electricity.”
I break here only to remind you this is about solar power because of this image of the sciency man is holding a solar cell! The above is actually a good example of a thin-film polymer cell which is not rigid and glassy like traditional solar cells. (Since I wasn’t ashamed last time about ripping off this very image from phys.org, I won’t be again this time.)
What makes this new design more efficient though comes not from the cells themselves but from the connections between the cells, known as junctions. Previously, these junctions would absorb solar energy and radiate it as heat, reducing solar efficiency. But by making a small change in the chemistry at the junction, researchers have been able to nearly eliminate this heat loss. Still from the phys.org article, “‘We have discovered that by inserting a very thin film of gallium arsenide into the connecting junction of stacked cells we can virtually eliminate voltage loss without blocking any of the solar energy,’ says Dr. Salah Bedair, a professor of electrical engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work.”
Gallium melts from a solid to liquid by just the heat of your hands! Did you know that? Well now you do! Don’t try this with arsenic, though. (I took from Tumblr.)
“‘Now we have created a connecting junction that loses almost no voltage, even when the stacked solar cell is exposed to 70,000 suns of solar energy,’ Bedair says.” Obviously we only have one God-damned Sun, so this sounds like a bunch of hooey. Fret not, ye readers, for such cells could be used in conjunction with mirrors or reflective dishes which would concentrate solar light and take advantage of the improved efficiency at higher concentrations of light!
Now we just got to figure it all out before Skynet does. Oh wait, that text reference doesn’t match the image reference… (from wikia.com)
Even this method though has its limits. “[C]oncentrating lenses are unlikely to create more than 4,000 or 5,000 suns worth of energy.” But since the threshold of efficiency on these cells is so high, it means the previous barriers will be effectively gone! Fucking Eh! The last hurdle to clear would be to make the cost of production of these ultra-high-efficiency stacked cells low enough to begin more large-scale manufacturing.
So though you may not have known it, amazing things are happening in the realm of solar power development. And as I stated in the last article concerning solar, hard limits on fossil fuels will hit us sooner or later and it’s at that point that, I believe, solar will really begin to take off. As traditional energy sources become more expensive, solar will become a viable alternative naturally and once a market for solar power production is firmly established, it will take off!
So buy your solar penny stocks now; the next irrationally exuberant economic bubble will be solar power! Solar power or thoroughbred horses. So FUCK YEAH!
Something, something capitalism! BUY SOLAR! (robbed from solidprinciples.com)