If solar is already the world’s cheapest form of energy what happens when the tech gets multiple times better?! Energy generation costs go to zero …


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After reading the title of this article I know what you’re thinking … what’s the maximum efficiency we can get from a solar panel? Well, I’ll give you two clues – first it’s not 32% and second you have to add a 1 in front of the 32%. Yep it’s a crazy 132% thanks to a technology called Black Silicon.


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However, while commercially available solar panels with that kind of energy efficiency are a way off this week Sharp Corporation has achieved a conversion efficiency of 32.65% in a lightweight, flexible, practically sized solar module developed as part of the “Research and Development of Solar Cells for Use in Vehicles” project, which is administered by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). And the fact it’s flexible means it’s a great candidate to help us get rid of Lithium Ion (LiON) batteries in, for example, electric vehicles some of which are already running on solar.


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Furthermore, as we think of the oil and gas energy giants strangle hold on the “old” automotive industry when combined with peer to peer vehicle charging this will let car manufacturers “generate and sell” their own energy to other road users and disintermediate companies like Shell and VW who are already investing billions in building out and owning the next generation of super charger networks


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The module’s conversion efficiency — currently the world’s highest, according to the company — bests that of a similar Sharp module developed under another NEDO project in 2016, which achieved an efficiency of 31.17%, at the time a world record.


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The new prototype uses a triple-junction compound design that sandwiches the solar cell between layers of film. The module is expected to be used in a variety of vehicles, an application that demands high efficiency and lightweight construction. Modules measuring about 29 by 34 centimeters (for an area of 965 square centimeters), a size which is large enough to be commercially viable, weigh only about 56 grams (0.58 kilograms per square meter).

Sharp’s triple-junction compound solar cell adopts a proprietary structure that comprises three photo-absorption layers with indium gallium arsenide as the bottom layer so that sunlight can be efficiently converted into electricity. Smaller cells using this structure (with an area of 1.047 square centimeters) achieved a conversion efficiency of 37.9% in April 2013. In 2016, Sharp used practically sized cells (with an area of 27.86 square centimeters) to create a composite module (with an area of 968 square centimeters) to achieve a conversion efficiency of 31.17%, at the time the world’s highest.


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In this current project, Sharp increased the average conversion efficiency of its triple-junction compound solar cells (with an area of 22.88 square centimeters) from the 2016 modules (from about 34.5% to about 36%) and improved the cell fill factor on each module to improve the conversion efficiency for a practically sized module (with an area of 965 square centimeters) to 32.65%.

Sharp said it would continue to conduct R&D into more efficient, lower-cost solar modules with a view to their use in such applications as electric vehicles (EVs) and aerospace.

Solar cells for EVs that provide direct electricity promise to make electric cars more convenient for users due to lower fuel costs and less time required for charging.


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“Against this backdrop, Sharp has been developing high-efficiency, low-cost solar modules that can conform to the curved surfaces of vehicles for use in a broad range of vehicles, including in standard EV and aerospace applications, by 2050,” the company added.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s 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 six 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, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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