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3D solar cells could be integrated into solar roof tiles

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March 20, 2012

Solar3D will examine the potential for its 3D solar cells to be used in solar roof tiles -...

Solar3D will examine the potential for its 3D solar cells to be used in solar roof tiles - not pictured (Image: Shutterstock)

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.”

Source: Solar3D

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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6 Comments

It's a gradual process but it's great to see solar evolve. The U.S. has put a lot of money into furthering it and sometimes it gets ugly but it's smart because it will pay of in a big way. Nothing great is easy.

Lots of companies are "looking into solar roof tiles" but the article makes me wonder about being able to walk on these tiles. Maybe you leave a path to the things that you might have to work on like that skylight in the picture.

The Hoff
20th March, 2012 @ 10:00 am PDT

http://www.gizmag.com/srs-curved-solar-roof-tiles/12584/

Never heard if these tiles ever made it to production.

Nvrmor
20th March, 2012 @ 01:17 pm PDT

Probably a stupid question, but nature has been doing photosynthesis for years and for some reason everythin is green. Weget into solar harvetng and all our solar panels are blue tinted or black. Ae we perhaps missing a trick?

myale
21st March, 2012 @ 02:44 am PDT

The question is are they independent of the grid. Until the solar companies start making systems that take you off the grid for a reasonable price I am not going to buy the system. There is no reason to buy any solar system that "goes down" when the grid goes down.

S Michael
21st March, 2012 @ 06:53 pm PDT

I thought Dow Corning was already producing a solar system that looks like and nails down like regular roof shingles.

woodman1018
26th March, 2012 @ 07:43 am PDT

part of the problem isn't just the cost of solar panels, it is all the other upgrades needed to use them. You need inverters, you have to replace your circuit breaker box with an expensive niche platform, if you are going to save extra energy there is a huge cost associated with making a bank of car batteries and charging systems for them. If you want to dump extra power back to the grid you have to make sure you are sending a pure sine wave onto the grid and install have a safety mechanism to prevent islanding etc. I haven't looked at it in years but it is a very complex and expensive process.

There is a hodge podge of a bunch of expensive products from a handful of small companies just to be able to use the power generated from the panels that acts as a large barrier to entry for people who want to install a couple of panels and have them tied into their system.

Everyone is researching better panel yields but not many people are focusing on the products that make up the other significant portion of the costs where significant gains can be had.

Build a couple of really solid products and contractors install solar ready systems into new houses for a small cost increase over standard circuit breakers and lower the barrier for people to start small with a few hidden panels here and there and a couple decorative windmills etc. and once people can generate SOME of their power for a small investment several people will buy a few panels at a time and the economics will drive the next generation of change the industry needs.

Design an in home electrical system that will allow DC input and measure usage on all the circuits breaking down things like the percentage of power generated from inputs people will find creative ways to try to generate more power off grid. Create a standards based method to measure and read the data that works with some of the intelligent outlets. Your electrical system is already a network so it trivial to tap into it for some home automation stuff as a value add to the $5k or so extra it would cost to fit a new house with the more sophisticated platform.

We aren't even close to the potential of what we could be doing.

Daishi
5th July, 2012 @ 09:13 am PDT
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