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The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin jointly announced having achieved a new world record for the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a new solar cell structure with four solar subcells. Surpassing competition after only a little more than three years of research, and entering the roadmap at world class level, a new record efficiency of 44.7% was measured at a concentration of 297 suns. This indicates that 44.7% of the solar spectrum's energy, from ultraviolet through to the infrared, is converted into electrical energy. This is a major step towards reducing further the costs of solar electricity and continues to pave the way to the 50% efficiency roadmap.
In May 2013, the German-French team of Fraunhofer ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin had already announced a solar cell with 43.6% efficiency. Building on this result, further intensive research work and optimization steps led to the present efficiency of 44.7%.
These solar cells are used in concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), a technology which achieves more than twice the efficiency of conventional PV power plants in sun-rich locations. The terrestrial use of so-called III-V multi-junction solar cells, which originally came from space technology, has prevailed to realize highest efficiencies for the conversion of sunlight to electricity. In this multi-junction solar cell, several cells made out of different III-V semiconductor materials are stacked on top of each other. The single subcells absorb different wavelength ranges of the solar spectrum.
"We are incredibly proud of our team which has been working now for three years on this four-junction solar cell," says Frank Dimroth, Department Head and Project Leader in charge of this development work at Fraunhofer ISE. "This four-junction solar cell contains our collected expertise in this area over many years. Besides improved materials and optimization of the structure, a new procedure called wafer bonding plays a central role. With this technology, we are able to connect two semiconductor crystals, which otherwise cannot be grown on top of each other with high crystal quality. In this way we can produce the optimal semiconductor combination to create the highest efficiency solar cells."
"This world record increasing our efficiency level by more than 1 point in less than 4 months demonstrates the extreme potential of our four-junction solar cell design which relies on Soitec bonding techniques and expertise," says André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé, Soitec's Chairman and CEO. "It confirms the acceleration of the roadmap towards higher efficiencies which represents a key contributor to competitiveness of our own CPV systems."
"This new record value reinforces the credibility of the direct semiconductor bonding approaches that is developed in the frame of our collaboration with Soitec and Fraunhofer ISE. We are very proud of this new result, confirming the broad path that exists in solar technologies for advanced III-V semiconductor processing," said Leti CEO Laurent Malier.
Concentrator modules are produced by Soitec (started in 2005 under the name Concentrix Solar, a spin-off of Fraunhofer ISE). This particularly efficient technology is employed in solar power plants located in sun-rich regions with a high percentage of direct radiation. Presently Soitec has CPV installations in 18 different countries including Italy, France, South Africa and the U.S. www.ise.fraunhofer.de
NREL Brings Precision, Savings to Energy Audits
October 22, 2013
An energy audit tool that more accurately pinpoints potential energy savings while potentially costing 35% to 75% less than traditional audits is set to hit the multi-billion-dollar energy retrofit industry next year.
The simuwatt Energy Auditor software package was developed by the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in partnership with Denver-based software developer concept3D. The simuwatt Energy Auditor replaces the clipboard-and-pencil approach of most building audits with a package that uses sophisticated, comprehensive computer modeling to find more potential energy savings.
The commercial buildings sector in America alone represents 7% of total energy consumption worldwide. Commercial buildings in the United States consume about $134 billion in electricity each year for lights, computers, office machines, appliances, and the like, according to the Energy Department's Buildings Energy Data Book. Even a modest reduction in electricity costs would mean huge savings.
At the individual building scale, a 200,000-square-foot office building that pays $2 per square foot in energy costs annually can save tens of thousands of dollars of net operating income by reducing consumption modestly. And that doesn't include the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the comfort level of building inhabitants.
Tool Makes Work Easier for Energy Service Companies
For many building owners, conducting energy audits is about as fun as a trip to the dentist. That's why they usually leave it to the professionals - the energy service companies, or ESCOs, that absorb the costs of the audit in order to spotlight possible energy and cost savings. Then, the ESCOs make improvements at low cost, in exchange for a share of the money saved on monthly utility bills.
It's a model that works primarily for large buildings today. Traditional audits can be cost prohibitive for small buildings, and with margins thin, ESCOs have little incentive today to absorb those costs due to lower total savings potential. simuwatt Energy Auditor offers to change this equation. It will allow ESCO employees to perform audits simply using mobile tablets and advanced energy modeling, skipping the laborious steps of manual input and transfer. "The hope is that by lowering costs, you can not only get deeper savings but also get into more buildings," said NREL Engineer Andrew Parker.
Oliver Davis, chief executive officer of concept3D, said simuwatt Energy Auditor allows the user to gather key building information rapidly: "Its software-guided workflow allows customers to double their audit capacity. More audits mean more retrofit work, more revenue, and more efficient buildings."
When the audit is finished, it is stored electronically and serves as the baseline for the next audit, which is typically done a few years later. "The subsequent audit becomes verification, not a new discovery," said NREL Senior Engineer Larry Brackney. "So, the cost of subsequent audits comes down sharply."
A Melding of Several Ideas
Lars Lisell, an NREL engineer who works to deploy research ideas into the marketplace, said simuwatt Energy Auditor is "a combination of a bunch of different ideas that fit together very nicely. We came up with the idea of marrying the energy audit with energy modeling through OpenStudio and other tools. We'd already been working with concept3D on buildings software."
"NREL's deployment program had been doing energy audits for the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Park Service, and other federal agencies for quite some time," Lisell said. "When you spend a lot of time doing something, you start to notice that there inefficiencies along the way — and realize there's a better way to do them."
concept3D, which pulled together the idea of capturing the geometry of a building by taking photos of the exterior, then layering those on top of a three-dimensional rendering of the building, has an exclusive license from NREL to develop the software tool for the marketplace.
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