Revisiting a largely abandoned concept from three decades ago, a research team at MIT has developed a new solar concentrator that is cost-effective as well as energy-efficient. Advocated as a better way of utilizing the sun's energy output, and practically doubling the performance of existing solar panels while greatly simplifying the process, this development could make photovoltaic systems much more commercially viable in the coming years. Most large-scale solar power operations are set up as systems of rotating mirrors that follow the path of the sun over a wide region and channel its rays into solar cells -- silicon-based semiconducting devices that collect and store the energy. In the MIT project, luminescent solar concentrators resembling windows absorb the sun's rays via thin films of organic color dyes that are applied in specific ratios to the surface of the glass panels. Ultimately, the cost-effectiveness of the new system may be its greatest advantage.
DONNA COVENEY, MIT / COURTESY OF NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION W o r l d T r e n d s & F o r e c a s t s Technology Marc Baldo, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science (left), and Organic Solar Collection Shalom Goffri, postdoc in MIT’s Research A breakthrough in concentrated photovoltaics may soon be available. Laboratory of Electronics, hold examples of organic solar concentrators. R NICOLLE RAGER FULLER / NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION evisiting a largely abandoned concept from three decades ago, a research team at MIT has developed a new solar concentrator that is cost- effective as well as energy- efficient. Advocated as a better way of utilizing the sun’s energy output, and practically doubling the performance of existing so- lar panels while greatly sim- plifying the process, this de- v e lo pm e n t c o uld m ake photovoltaic systems much more commercially viable in the coming years. Most large-scale solar power operations are set up as systems of rotating mir- rors that follow the path of An artist’s representation shows how a dye-based luminescent solar concentrator could help make the sun over a wide region existing solar panels more efficient. Dye molecules coated on glass absorb sunlight and reemit it at and channel its rays into so- different wavelengths. lar cells — silicon-based semiconducting devices that DONNA COVENEY, MIT / COURTESY OF NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION collect and store the energy. Solar cells can be attached to the Cooling systems are in con- edges of the organic solar con- stant use to keep the large centrators. By collecting sunlight solar panels containing the over their full surface and concen- devices from overheating. trating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area This method is less effec- of solar cells and, consequently, tive, more expensive, and the cost of solar power. Stacking more cumbersome than it multiple concentrators allows the should be, critics have long optimization of solar cells at each complained. The result is wavelength, increasing the overall that energy from fossil fuels power output. i s c u r re n t l y st ill m u c h cheaper to produce on a large scale. However, that may films of organic color dyes that are semiconducting material, and do not change soon, thanks to the MIT re- applied in specific ratios to the sur- require extensive cooling systems or searchers, led by assistant professor face of the glass panels. The light is separate panels to house them. The of electrical engineering Marc Baldo. then reemitted through the glass to “windows” themselves also occupy In the MIT project, luminescent so- small solar cells positioned around less s
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