Researchers at Boston College and MIT recently announced that they have created a new hybrid solar thermal panel that generates electricity as well as hot water. The new flat panel platform is said to have demonstrated seven to eight times higher efficiency than previous solar thermoelectric generators, a fact its creators think will open up solar-thermal electric power conversion to a broader base of residential and industrial uses.
A report that was issued by the researchers in the journal Nature Materials describes the use of nanotechnology engineering methods to “combine high-performance thermoelectric materials and spectrally-selective solar absorbers in a vacuum-sealed chamber to boost conversion efficiency.” The MIT and Boston College teams say the development has the potential to help achieve more cost-effective conversion of solar energy into electricity.
Boston College Professor of Physics Zhifeng Ren, a co-author of the report, said that existing solar-thermal technologies do a good job of generating hot water but this new product adds electricity into the mix and “promises to give users a quicker payback on their investment.” Ren went on to estimate that the new technology could shorten the payback time of such systems by as much as 1/3.
The research was supported as part of the Solid State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.