New solar concentrators could replace solar panels

A new compact method utilizing solar concentrators to generate electricity could make solar panels that contain expensive photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity a thing of the past.

Solar concentrators can be used to increase the electrical power obtained from the photovoltaic cells. But most concentrators in use today “track the sun to generate high optical intensities, often by using large mobile mirrors that are expensive to deploy and maintain,” said MIT’s Marc A. Baldo, who led the team that created the new type of solar concentrator.

Instead of covering a large area with solar cells, the new method only requires locating cells around the edges of a flat glass panel.

The MIT solar concentrator involves a mixture of two or more dyes painted onto a pane of glass or plastic. The dyes absorb light across a range of wavelengths, re-emit it at a different wavelength and transport it across the pane to the solar cells at the edges.

“Light is collected over a large area [like a window] and gathered, or concentrated, at the edges,” Baldo said.

Focusing the light like this increases the electrical power generated by each solar cell “by a factor of 40,” he added.

Scientists had tried using similar solar concentrators in the 1970s, but abandoned the idea when not enough of the collected light reached the edges of the concentrator. The MIT engineers revamped the idea by using a mixture of dyes in specific ratios, which allows some level of control over how the light is transmitted.

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