Solar energy has been around for quite some time, since 1839 to be specific. However, the first silicon photovoltaic cell wasn’t developed until 1954. Originally sold to commercial properties, but as the popularity of renewable energy grew so did the use of solar energy in residential homes. Made of silicon and sold in slabs, they have a rather unattractive reputation of being bulky, too expensive and some home owners even claim it is ineffective. According to an article by the technological review, ineffectiveness can be as a result of fundamental limitations that prevent the solar cells from absorbing more energy from the sun than they should be.
Part of what makes solar panels expensive, is the energy storage systems that come with it. The energy storage systems like batteries allow the user to draw electricity from the panel when the sun is down. That way you can continuously draw electricity from your panel at night. The panels themselves are bulky and require space, the bigger the panel the more energy you can draw and save from the sun to power your home.
Being bulky, expensive and not having the ability to draw and store too much energy are the drawbacks of solar panels that a team of scientists at MIT set out to find a solution for. This venture lead to them building a different kind of solar device. The current going name for this new device is “hot solar cells.”
With current solar energy devices, there’s an absolute theoretical limit of how much energy traditional solar cells can convert. They can usually only convert about a third of the sunlight energy it captures into electricity. This theoretical limit of a solar cell is called the Shockley- Queisser limit. According to the Smithsonian, residential solar panels actually convert less energy than the Shockley-Queisser limit.
The new solar device that MIT is working on, is estimated by scientists to be a lot more efficient than its traditional counterparts. It exceeds the Shockley-Queisser limit, in theory. The new technology will turn sunlight into heat, and heat back to light/energy. It takes advantage of high temperatures to raise its efficiency. It will store excess energy produced as heat, to be converted to energy later. This way you can still get electricity out of your solar energy system even when the sun is nowhere to be found. This is possible because it is much easier to store heat than electricity. According to the scientists, it can produce cheap and continuous solar power.
Unfortunately, so far all we have is a prototype, it’s estimated to be available on the market in the next 10 -15 years once the technology has been thoroughly tested and perfected. Fingers crossed they let residential homes have it the same time as commercial buildings.
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