The world of solar power research and development is teaming with innovative ideas and projects which are trying to clear aside the major obstacles to making photovoltaics efficient, affordable and competitive with conventional power generation options. Research at Boeing’s Spectrolab subsidiary to develop a multijunction photovoltaic cell with a 40.7% solar to electricity conversion efficiency is in full swing, while the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is well underway in the generation of Very High Efficiency Solar Cells, which if successful, are to deliver an efficiency of more than 50%1. Durham University is testing copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride and other compounds as potentially cheaper materials in a 4-year research effort2. The quest for cheaper material for solar cells is going in many different directions, with research consortia such as The Department of Engineering Physics at McMaster University, Cleanfield Energy and the Ontario Centres of Excellence, working to use nanowires instead of thin film and crystal silicon, which are said to offer lower material utilization and low-cost substrates3. On other side of the spectrum, the SOLHYCO project, coordinated by the the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, is looking to develop a highly efficient solar-hybrid microturbine (SHM) system for power and heat generation with dual solar power and fuel input4.
These and other cutting edge projects, however, reveal that the objectives, while driving innovation, are not necessarily addressing the problems facing the solar energy sector in a comprehensive way. A comprehensive approach is one which, in the case of solar power, accounts for both issues of conversion efficiency and low-cost materials, but also one where one parameter is achieved but not at the expense of another. In the present project, both these issues will be studied and researched in parallel, and this thanks to the unique technology developments as well as the nature of the technological objectives set for this project.
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