Solar Cells
Developments could make solar cells much less expensive. Image: Flickr / dalcapitano / CC-BY

Renewable energy has always run into roadblocks because it is more expensive than fossil fuels. Researchers have now created a solar cell that is efficient enough to be financially competitive with fossil fuels.

Solar cells harvest waste heat

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has created a solar cell that is significantly more efficient than previously developed solar cells. The plastic semiconductors capture waste heat from photovoltaic cells. This method of harvesting waste heat increases the theoretical efficiency of a solar cell from 31 percent (the current limit of commercial cells) to 66 percent. This efficiency reduces the cost of the solar cells by creating more power in the same cells.

Balancing renewable energy

The cost of renewable energy has always been of great concern for individuals trying to get solar power to be more widely adopted. Solar cells can be very expensive, and the relatively low efficiency has made them even more expensive. Homeowners who install solar cell systems on their homes can expect to earn the cost back over 15 to 25 years. On a larger scale, power companies can install solar power with government subsidies, but they are often prohibitively expensive.

A question of trade policy

With the newly efficient solar cells, solar power would theoretically be less expensive than fossil fuels. The theory, however, may never cross into reality. In October, the U.S. government started considering a request to impose a tariff on Chinese solar cells and parts. The tariffs were requested because the U.S. government believes that China’s subsidies of solar panels and solar equipment are unfair in the world trade market. China has shot back, saying that the United States also subsidizes solar development. No matter what the conclusion is, the trade disputes will make solar development and implementation slower and more expensive.


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