UNSW researchers break solar cell efficiency record

Australian researchers have broken the world record for converting the highest amount of sunlight into electricity using a solar power system.

Experts at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) created an array that had a 40 per cent efficiency level, with the results independently verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist in charge of the project, said researchers used commercial panels in an innovative new way to get the results.

He added that this technique is easily accessible to the solar industry, suggesting efficiency gains will not take long to make it to market.

The solution uses triple-junction cells supported by cheaper conventional silicon versions to increase power output. 

Professor Martin Green, UNSW Scientia Professor and director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, claimed the results are the best ever recorded.

"The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia," he explained.

Scientists at UNSW have a long history of solar breakthroughs, with the university being the first in the world to break the 20 per cent efficiency barrier in 1989.

Australia on the world stage

Competition in the renewables industry appears to be heating up. Earlier this month, a French-German collaboration announced it had set the record for the highest ever efficiency for a single solar cell.

The multi-junction unit converted 46 per cent of sunlight into electricity, beating the previous top score of 43.6 per cent. Under concentrated sunlight, the cell has an efficiency potential of up to 50 per cent.

As technology advances in the sustainable energy sector, it is likely that high-performance cells will be combined with increasingly sophisticated solar panel systems to optimise performance.

Commenting on the UNSW breakthrough, Australian Renewable Energy Agency CEO Ivor Frischknecht​ said it shows the value of investing in the country's sustainable power industry.

"We hope to see this home-grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot-scale demonstrations," he stated.

"Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness."

His comments come just two weeks after WWF Australia revealed the nation's households are overwhelmingly in favour of solar solutions.

Eighty per cent of people in the country support rooftop solar, while 70 per cent believe increased large-scale solar investment is a good idea.

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