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.
Our entire premise is based on getting more light/energy to the cell, thus more energy out. In short, it’s like we have thousands of tiny little magnifying glasses on the surface of the layer that funnel light into our proprietary photonics light routing network, in the middle, that carry light to a smaller output area on the bottom where a solar cell can be attached.
ET: We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the cleantech boom in California in the wake of AB32. How has this environment fostered the development of HyperSolar and its new technology?
TY: I believe people in California care more and think more about the environment largely because of the beauty of our state and our desire to protect it. We just happen to be lucky that our chief scientist is based here in California, so that’s where we based the company. Thus far, AB32 has neither helped us nor hurt us.
ET: Recently, we changed the content of a story we ran on HyperSolar, based on a question raised by several readers. From the way they were reading things, one HyperSolar layer boosts solar light magnification by 300%, but not the power output of solar cells by that same percentage. Is that correct?
TY: For some reason, many confuse the solar cell with the solar panel or module. We are boosting the solar cell output by three times or 300%. However, the solar panel output will remain roughly the same. The majority of the cost of a solar panel is what goes into the cell making process where you go from raw silicon to an ingot, to a wafer, and then to a cell. Our goal is to reduce the number of those cells by at least 2/3 thus reducing the cost of the panel and the cost per watt.