IBM: Efficient Solar Cells from Cheaper Materials

February 14, 2010

Solar materials are often created using hard to find resources — somewhat negating the value of capturing energy from the sun instead of through other means. IBM Research has developed a new solar material that uses tin, copper, and other abundant resources, and is 40% more efficient at converting the energy to power that other solar materials. This is one reason we don’t all have solar panels on our houses and cars — the cost of manufacturing the panels is too high.

IBM cross section photo

Researchers at IBM have increased the efficiency of a novel type of solar cell made largely from cheap and abundant materials by over 40 percent. According to an article published this week in the journal Advanced Materials, the new efficiency is 9.6 percent, up from the previous record of 6.7 percent for this type of solar cell, and near the level needed for commercial solar panels. The IBM solar cells also have the advantage of being made with an inexpensive ink-based process.

IBM’s new solar cell, versus other cells performing at comparable efficiency levels have been too costly, and have contained elements not conducive to efficiency or production. IBM’s solar cell is also notable for its creation, which consisted of solution and nanoparticle-based approaches in contrast to the popular but expensive vacuum-based method.

Solar Power, Time To Pop That Balloon

July 8, 2009

Solar power can never generate continuous, predictable, low cost electric power. Solar power must always be supported by expensive power storage systems(battery, water ect) or by reliable standby power sources such as coal, gas, hydro or nuclear. Else when you ‘flip the switch’ nothing comes out. It matters little how many millions of dollars of taxpayer money is poured into “research”, it can never solve the following two fatal flaws of solar power.

First, sunlight energy arrives in very dilute form, and thus needs large area collectors to harvest significant energy. This results in high capital costs and large environmental disturbance footprints. Solar power on average can light one 75-watt bulb for about every square meter of collectors (in the middle of the day only). How many square meters do we need to run our air conditioners, recharge our hybrids, fridges, homes, heaters, factories, hospitals and all other things of a big city?

Secondly, the solar energy produced during daylight hours is constantly variable and unpredictable, and zero power is generated at night. As a result, solar power farms seldom produce their rated capacity over a year and as low as low as zero power for a day or so. Clouds will not go away.

Bottom line, notice that solar power is only available during the daytime. Solar power is a meager player best left to emergency cell phone recharging. And no amount of government research money is going to change that.

There is always wind, if only the grid could support it, and the wind would blow day and night, close to where people wanted the electricity and if the darn windmills didn’t make so much noise — and … and … and … sigh.

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