Solar cells are notoriously expensive to produce–and though they generate renewable energy, they can also be pretty hard on the earth in terms of the natural resources required to produce them. Concentrated solar power seeks to address both issues by getting more power out of each solar cell on a panel, and HyperSolar, a California-based company, recently reported a major technological breakthrough in this area.
The HyperSolar concentrator layer works to increase the amount of light that reaches a given solar cell, decreasing the number of solar cells manufacturers must fit on a panel in order to achieve the desired level of output. While it’s too soon to say exactly how much this new technology could decrease the price of solar panels in general, the impact is likely to be significant.
To help us get clear on how all of this works, Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar, Inc., answered a few questions for us.
EarthTechling (ET): How did HyperSolar get started? What was the vision behind it?
Tim Young (TY): The concept of using optics to increase the output of solar cells is not new. Our vision, however, is to use photonics, a science closely related to optics, with traditional manufacturing methods and traditional crystalline solar cells, which are responsible for 90% of the solar electricity output today. The HyperSolar layer over a solar cell can increase the output of that solar cell by 300% or three times. With the HyperSolar layer used as the top sheet of a traditional solar panel, the manufacturer can drastically reduce cost of their panel by putting fewer “expensive” silicon solar cells in their panels.
Our lead inventor is Nadir Dagli, an expert in the field of photonics and nanophotonics. He got the company started with this concept. Dr. Dagli received his PhD in electrical engineering from MIT and has pioneered may novel breakthrough technologies in photonics and made significant contributions in fiber optics for the high speed telecommunications field. Our success at HyperSolar is based on many of the same principals of micro fiber optics and guiding light from one point to another, making his experience completely relevant to our needs.
ET: How does your new light magnification layer work in conjunction with an existing solar cell?
TY: You read about solar electricity prices coming down, but the fact remains that less than one percent of our power is generated by solar. The reason for that is without government grants and subsidies, solar is still not at price parity with coal, oil, and other forms of power generation. While at this point in our development, it would be reckless to quote a cost per watt price of a panel with the HyperSolar layer, suffice it to say that if we can reduce 2/3 of the solar cells in a panel with an inexpensive optical layer, we can drastically reduce the cost per watt.