Solar Energy Gaining Ground

Many green thinkers view solar power as being a primary solution to world energy problems. Google is installing a fairly large1.6 Mega Watt (MW) solar power generation plant on the roof of their headquarters. Walmart is seeking proposals for a much larger 100 MW system. Lanner Corporation is planning to use Sun Power Corporation solar panels in a California subdivision. These projects are being considered in part by federal alternate energy tax credits.
Large-scale solar generation systems are an iffy financial investment. Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are still developing. PV cells directly convert solar energy to electrical energy. The manufacture of the PV panel is analogous to the manufacture of computer memory chips. Using that analogy, the cost of these PV cells will decrease greatly in time and the efficiency will increase. Pilot facilities to test large-scale PV generation plants should limited to wealthy corporations. Image enhancement and tax credits being the primary motivation.

PV solar cell technology is much closer to becoming a cost effective power generation alternative that I would recommend. Spectro Labs, a subsidiary of Boeing, is currently manufacturing triple junction PV panels with over 28% efficiency. The increased efficiency is due to the three-junction design expanding the useful light spectrum for photovoltaic conversion. Based on that design, Spectro Labs recently set a new world record with a 40.3 percent efficiency PV solar cell.

This efficiency is approaching maximum efficiency. Meaning the probability of another huge leap in PV solar cell efficiency is less likely. The cost of the triple junction devices is very high at this time. The devices are based on pure Germanium crystal substrates. If the triple junction technology can be adapted to polycrystalline substrates, the cost will drop dramatically.

The polycrystalline based triple junction devices will have a lower efficiency than the pure crystal design. That reduction in efficiency will be completely offset by the dramatic cost reduction. The average efficiency of a polycrystalline triple junction PV solar cell should be in the order of 30 percent, well above Sun Power Corporation’s model A315’s 21% efficiency.

The corporate solar energy ventures will help spur a demand for increase solar panel manufacture. If enough demand can be created through tax credits, cost of the panels can reduce making solar energy options much more appealing for the general public.

Solar energy as an affordable alternative is rapidly approaching a reality. The next generation of affordable triple junction solar cells should be the key to igniting an explosion in worldwide solar power plant construction.