An Australian solar company has developed the world's most efficient commercial-sized solar cell with 25.54 percent efficiency, accomplishing a significant jump from the previous record of 25.26 percent. The results were tested and verified by the Institute For Solar Energy Research Hamelin in Germany.
The company behind the achievement is SunDrive, which was born in a garage in 2015 and co-founded by Vince Allen, a then-PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, who had an idea to make solar panels much cheaper: substitute the silver normally used to collect electricity with copper.
Silver is an essential component of today's solar panels, and this was a great idea for many reasons: Copper is 100 times cheaper than silver, which is an expensive and finite resource, and has a considerably larger supply, and requires lower processing temperatures, resulting in less energy use.
Moreover, as explained by Allen to ABC, the realistic efficiency limit of a commercial-sized solar cell is around 27 percent, indicating that the technology is approaching its efficiency limit, which is why using copper instead can be extremely beneficial for the widespread adoption of solar energy.
"I think what's more significant than achieving the world record is we've been able to do it without silver," Allen explained. "If you look at the commercial solar cells today and the last few world-record commercial-sized solar cells, there's a strong correlation between efficiency and silver consumption. We've effectively broken that trend using copper."
While the company isn't ready to make such solar panels ready for installation, the new record might be signaling a change in the world of solar power, potentially lowering the manufacturing cost of solar panels. The next step for the company will be making the technology mass-producible.
"In terms of our timeline, we're planning to have a commercial-sized module containing our solar cells at the end of this year, which is representative of what we could put on a roof or in a solar farm," Allen said. "We're also focused on building our pilot production line by end of next year with panels ready maybe by the first half of 2023."