Solar power could become much cheaper thanks to a record-breaking technology partly developed by a Cardiff-based company.
IQE has been working with an American partner to produce highly efficient multi-junction solar energy cells for the concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) market.
The technology is the same as has been used to power satellites and is around three times more efficient than normal solar panels at converting sunlight into electricity.
Cells incorporating IQE-made wafers have recently been certified by America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as having an efficiency of 44.1%, beating the previous 44% record set last October by its California-based partner Solar Junction.
This compares to a typical 15% efficiency rating for standard silicon-based solar panels.
Besides their efficiency, multi-junction cells also have the advantage of being smaller than the silicon-based cells used in traditional photovoltaic panels.
Instead of using a large area of silicon to collect the light, the system uses cheap Perspex lenses which concentrate the light, and the panels (or modules as they are termed) are mounted on large units 60 feet across, which track the sun all day long.
The system is most likely to be of benefit in large scale solar power stations in countries where there is a lot of direct sunlight, but could eventually be used for smaller scale installations in less sunny countries.
IQE has secured a seven-year exclusive agreement to manufacture all the wafers used by Solar Junction, one of the world’s leading players in this technology.
A recent independent industry report said that the target market for CPV is expected to reach more than 5GW (gigawatts) over the next few years, with more than 750MW (megawatts) to be installed by 2015.
The IQE-Solar Junction units will initially be deployed in a number of installations under development in several southern European countries, including Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Spain and France.