Solar-Thermal Panels to Generate Electricity Efficiently From Now On
By May 5th, 2011Thursday, May 5, 2011 11:17 on
Until recently, one had to choose whether to ask for electricity from solar panels or heat from solar-thermal panels, but you couldn’t have it both ways. Now, thanks to a team of researchers from Boston College and MIT, you can. As reported in the Nature Materials journal, engineers have worked out a way to trap heat in a flat panel so as to help you enjoy heat and electricity at the same time.
What hindered researchers to come up with this until now was the lack of right materials – so far none of those used had the properties to produce enough electric power. So how did they overcome this shortage?
The team constructed a hybrid product that is two-times better: an improved surface that can absorb light more efficiently and the flat panel itself, which catches the light and prevents it from diffusing. The result is a 7 to 8 times higher efficiency in generating electricity on top of heating the water and spaces.
The key factor here was the use of nanotechnology: it made thermoelectric materials perform better and enhanced the conversion efficiency of the spectrally-selective solar absorbers. The success of the application will influence residential and industrial clients in a good way: not only will they get two things from one product, but they will also pay for it less.
It will make the technology affordable, help expand clean energy markets and, more importantly, customers will get to enjoy its benefits sooner: “This new technology can shorten the payback time by one third” says Zhifeng Ren, a Professor of Physics involved in the project. Isn’t this what we all want: two things for the price of one?
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