Stanford engineers have figured out a new way to make solar panels that use both the sun's light and heat to generate energy. It's a discover that could double the efficiency of solar panels.
With today's photovoltaic panels, as the sun heats them up they get less efficient. They can't use the heat to generate energy, just the light. And as their temperatures reach 100C, they stop working altogether.
But by coating a piece of semiconducting material with a thin layer of the metal caesium, it allows the panels to use both light and heat to gather juice.
The device they've created, dubbed the "photon enhanced thermionic emission", or PETE, doesn't even hit peak efficiency until it reaches well over 200C. This will make them perfect for solar concentrators such as parabolic dishes, which focus the suns rays and can get as hot as 800C.
When combined with a thermal conversion cycle that would use its high-temp waste heat, the system could reach 55 per cent efficiency or even higher, which would be nearly twice the efficiency of today's systems. Awesome. [Stanford via Slashdot]