In the November 9th online edition of the MIT Technology Review, Kevin Bullis talks about some of the advances that have been made in the area known as concentrating photovoltaics. While the idea of concentrating sunlight in order to both reduce the size of solar cells and make the entire process of converting sunlight into electricity more efficient, its only been recently that the idea has gained momentum. For example, just last month Sharp Corporation demoed its new system that uses a fresnel lens (its like the lenses used in lighthouses) to focus light onto superefficient solar cells.
While the varied approaches to this concept have been difficult to implement because of the added complexity of the systems, there’s been a number of recent advances. For example, SolFocus has recently been making a system that combines the concentrator and solar cells in one sealed unit by using the same techniques used to make car headlights.
The article also talks about advances made in the area of superefficient solar cells – it used to be thought that these cells would only work well in labs, due to the difficulty in maintaining efficiencies using large scale manufacturing techniques. But even this is changing – a company named Spectrolab “on their production floor does better than we do in the lab. So it basically blew that myth out of the water.”