January 22, 2008 GE Global Research, has demonstrated a scalable silicon nanowire-based solar cell, which has the potential to achieve up to 18% efficiency. The breakthrough by the lab’s Nano Photovoltaics (PV) team is a promising new development in making PV systems more economically viable for consumers than conventional solar options.
Affordability and efficiency are the two biggest hurdles currently facing the solar industry. Although the sun is an abundant and free resource, the ability to capture its power is somewhat more complicated. Dr. Loucas Tsakalakos, Project Leader of GE’s Nano PV team said “higher efficiency often comes with a higher price tag. Through the unique processing and materials property benefits enabled by nanotechnology, we’re aiming to break that paradigm and pave the way to making solar power more affordable for consumers while maintaining and even improving cell performance.”
GE has an ongoing collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is managing a three-year, $46.7 million project that is looking across the entire value chain to make solar energy more cost effective and more readily available in the marketplace. The program is evaluating three different technologies for the solar cell: high efficiency silicon-based cells, molded silicon wafers, and flexible thin films. DOE’s Solar America Initiative is designed to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015. Of its own accord, GE has committed to more than doubling its level of investment in environmentally friendly technologies like solar from $700 million to $1.5 billion by the year 2010. GE is well on track to meet its commitment, surpassing the $1 billion mark in R+D spending this year.
The development from GE was recently reported in the journal Applied Physics Letters, which can be accessed online. Other recent breakthroughs in the solar arena include research announced in December 2007 indicating the potential of semiconductor nanostructures known as "nano flakes" and an announcement by Braggone that a new manufacturing method will help to capture more light in a solar cell.