3D solar cells could be integrated into solar roof tiles
By Darren Quick
March 20, 2012
Home owners looking to embrace solar but concerned about the effect slabs of solar panels will have on the look of their house may soon have an option that blends the old with the new. California-based company Solar3D has announced it is conducting a study to explore the potential for integrating its solar cells directly into roof tiles. While conventional solar cells aren’t really suitable for roof tiles due to their fixed orientation, Solar3D believes its 3D solar cell technology could make such a product feasible.
Like a number of technologies we’ve looked at, Solar3D’s solar cells maximize the amount of sunlight converted into electricity by trapping the sunlight within the solar cell. While conventional solar cells reflect much of the sunlight before it can be absorbed, Solar3D’s solar cell traps the sunlight inside photovoltaic structures etched into the silicon wafer, where the photons bounce around, increasing the chances they will be absorbed. Solar3D claims its 3D solar cells have an internal efficiency of 25.47 percent, compared to the efficiency range of 15 to 19 percent seen in commercial solar cells.
Additionally – and importantly for any potential integration in roof tiles – Solar3D’s solar cells also feature a surface that the company claims allows more light to be captured at wider angles, such as in mornings and evenings, and in the winter months. Whereas the efficiency of conventional solar cells is dramatically reduced once the light hitting them falls outside a narrow range of incident angles, Solar3D claims the wide-angled light collection of its solar cells allows their efficiency to be maintained over a much wider range of incident angles.
In fact, the company claims that its 3D solar cell can maintain its 25 percent efficiency from such a range of angles that it can produce 200 percent of the power output of conventional solar cells.
It is this wide-angle light collection capability that has prompted Solar3D to look at integrating the technology into roof tiles. The company will collaborate with solar roofing company, Redwood Renewables, on a study to examine how the silicon-based technology will perform in Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV0 applications.
“Everyone wants low cost high-powered solar cells to convert an unlimited amount of free solar energy into useful electricity,” says Solar3D CEO, Jim Nelson. “But, the industry has hit a wall using conventional 2-dimensional solar cell designs. With Solar3D cells, utility solar farms can be smaller in size and easier to operate without the need for mechanical systems to track the sun. Space limited applications, such as rooftops, can finally generate enough useful power to successfully compete against other sources of electricity.”