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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

A three fold increase in the energy efficiency of solar panels could revolutionise almost every industry on Earth.

 

In our efforts to make solar panels even more efficient a team of scientists in the UK have found a way of funnelling the Sun’s power and increase the efficiency of converting it into electricity to power homes from 20 percent to over 60 percent.

 

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As the number of solar power installations around the world boom, from the world’s largest solar park in Dubai to Africa’s own huge farms and beyond, solar power is now increasingly becoming the cheapest way to power your house, or business for that matter, in over 58 countries, kicking fossil fuels to the curb. But that all said it’s still a long way from achieving the energy efficiency we want it to, which has led a team of scientists to develop a pioneering new technique that could effectively ‘funnel’ solar energy in greater amounts than before.

 

The scientists explain their breakthrough

 

In a paper published in Nature Communications a team from the University of Exeter has detailed a breakthrough that could see a staggering three fold increase in the amount of solar energy generated in a new solar panel than in traditional solar panel systems.

This, the team believes, could see the creation of solar panels that are no bigger than a book being used to power an entire home, but the revolution wouldn’t stop there. Think, for example, of replacing an electric cars Lithium Ion batteries with highly efficient solar panels, or other materials – something that’s even on Lamborghini’s mind as they build the world’s first battery-less hyper car – or even powering tomorrow’s solar aircraft and flying taxis which are already flying around in the skies above Dubai, and you can easily see how this single breakthrough could help revolutionise not just the energy industry but multiple industries.

“The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container – as we all know, it is much more efficient if we use a funnel,” said Adolfo de Sanctis, lead author of the paper. “However, such ‘charge funnels’ cannot be realised using conventional semiconductors, and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled our discovery.”

 

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The physicists achieved this major feat with a chip made from an atomically thin semiconductor called hafnium disulphide, which was oxidised with a high intensity UV laser. They were then then able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of their new chip, where they can be more easily extracted and turned into electricity.

Breaking it down into figures, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60 percent of the raw power of the sun into usable solar energy, compared with 20 percent found in existing systems, and a, by comparison, measly 26 percent efficiency found in the world’s best solar panels. Another potential nail in the coffin of fossil fuels? I think so.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, award winning Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute, a global futures think tank working between the dates of 2020 and 2070, is described as "The Adviser behind the Advisers." Regularly featured on AP, CNBC, Discovery and RT, his ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past five years as one of the world's foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive future. A rare talent Matthew sits on the Technology and Innovation Committee (TIAC) for Centrica, Europe’s largest utility company, and his recent work includes mentoring XPrize teams, building the first generation of biocomputers and re-inventing global education, and helping the world’s largest manufacturers envision, design and build the next 20 years of devices, smartphones and intelligent machines. Matthew's clients are the who’s who of industry and include Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, BOA, Blackrock, Bentley, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, Du Pont, E&Y, HPE, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, UBS, the USAF and many others.

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