back to article New solar cell breaks efficiency records, turns 34% of light into 'leccy

University of New South Wales boffins have laid hands on another record, with a solar cell demonstrating 34.5 per cent conversion efficiency. The work was carried out by Dr Mark Keevers and Professor Martin Green, who heads up the university's Centre for Advanced Photonics. It's the kind of result that would get Olympic …

  1. Kharkov
    Paris Hilton

    Science is a filthy tease...

    Better efficiency in a lab? Wonderful! Better efficiency to come? Even more wonderful!

    So... when do we see this in the stores? When can we throw this kind of solar panel on the roof, disconnect from the grid and be totally green?

    {singsong voice} # Science isn't telling you... #

    Oh, Science, you are a cruel mistress...

    1. Andrew Jones 2

      Re: Science is a filthy tease...

      More importantly...... how much extra is it going to cost over the current crop of panels? More efficiency is great, but if it's going to cause the cost of the 4kW installed system to increase beyond the point where you are ever likely to recover the total cost (bearing in mind as the efficiency of the system drops as it ages - you move further and further away from recovering the cost) then I'll just stick with the less efficient by much more cost effective bog standard installs we have nowadays.....

      1. JeffyPoooh
        Pint

        Re: Science is a filthy tease...

        AJ2 "...recover the total cost..."

        An analysis where 'Multiples of Infinity' can be necessary. If it takes 'forever' to recover one-third of the investment (roughly representing embodied resources), then it'll need at least '3 infinities' of time to achieve break-even. Assuming capital at 0%.

        Not many fields of study need to introduce 'Multiples of Infinity', but some early examples of renewable energy systems certainly did.

        Thankfully solar panels made in Chinese factories helped to lower the prices enough that the payback is now a fraction of forever.

        Too bad those factories are powered by brown coal from Mongolia. Oh well, no price is too high to save the planet...

        1. Spit The Dog

          Re: Science is a filthy tease...

          So that's a valid reason to continue generating electricity with coal and nuclear, solar panels are manufactured with Mongolian coal!! Still it's only 24 billion for the unproven Hinkley C and that probably doesn't include the de-commissioning. That stacks up well against investing and R&D in renewables and domestic batteries doesn't it? A moment on the grid, several thousand lifetimes of cleanup in Somerset for our kids.

          1. handle

            Re: Science is a filthy tease...

            @Spit the dog: have you really not worked out that if the energy produced by the installation over its lifetime is far more than that embodied in it by the use of "Mongolian coal!!" (and it is), then the net result is beneficial?

        2. channel extended
          Coat

          Re: Science is a filthy tease...

          There is a branch of mathematics that deals with infinity's developed by Gregor Cantor. Tho rarely used in accounting, except for govt work.

          Q: Which is the larger infinite series, even numbers or odd?

          A: The answer is trivial!

          1. JeffyPoooh
            Pint

            Re: Science is a filthy tease...

            @channel extended on Cantor's Infinities

            Yep. I understand the basics of the endless multiple infinities, each infinitely larger than the last.

            Q: How do the reciprocals of these various infinities arrange themselves around zero?

            The graphical 'Number Line' concept seems to utterly fail us at this point. Which is interesting.

      2. Spudley

        Re: Science is a filthy tease...

        > More importantly...... how much extra is it going to cost over the current crop of panels?

        The cost difference is proably fairly irrelevant, because if future panels cost significantly less or generate significantly more, the government will reduce the subsidies again, so the cost to your pocket will remain much the same.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: Science is a filthy tease...

          The cost difference is proably fairly irrelevant, because if future panels cost significantly less or generate significantly more, the government will reduce the subsidies again, so the cost to your pocket will remain much the same.

          Down to the point where the subsidy is zero and panels are still cost-effective. (Which will be later in the UK than in, say, Southern Arizona, where panels already need no subsidy to be cost-effective).

          At that point it will be a straightforward calculation of the value of the electricity being generated a £x installation compared to the greater amount of electricity being generated by a more efficient and more expensive installation. Bear in mind that the labour cost is the lions share of the system cost.

      3. handle

        Re: Science is a filthy tease...

        @Andrew Jones 2: I haven't noticed any efficiency drop in my 5 year old PV installation so far, though I accept the capacitors in the inverter might not last for ever.

        1. Oblamo BinLyen

          Re: Science is a filthy tease...

          Coming in late here...my 3,500Kw system put out about 3,200 peak under PERFECT conditions using 190w Kyocera Cells (10 years old now). Lost a channel on my inverter (70% efficiency), Put in new inverter, 93% efficiency after 10 years, panels are now putting out 3,000 peak, 10 years later. My total investment in this entire system, including new inverter and trouble shooting, the tech was a blithering idiot, is $27k. At a 6% loss over 10 years I'm friggin' thrilled, especially seeing as it was offset by a much improved inverter. I have discovered one thing, it doesn't matter if panels are sparkling clean or not. Essentially the same output. Enjoy. Go Nukes for reliable energy.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Science is a filthy tease...

      When someone reads the paper, thinks "great, this is the next 'big thing' for me to invest in", throws ten year's salary at the guys who wrote it, and funds the development of a commercial product.

      Like every "better battery" out there - an article a week at least, and yet I'm still using Li-ion or NiMH or NiCd or Alkaline and have done for... well, years. The last big change was Li-Po but even that's relatively niche and expensive en masse still. And yet each generation, though "better", never gets close to the lab experiments or their hyperbolic claims.

      To be honest, you'll be on 50-something % efficiency for solar panels within a reasonable time. It's just a case of selling lots of what we have to bring the prices down to fund the next generation. The problem you really have is that even at 100% efficiency, you won't actually GAIN that much and probably not enough to actually get the everyday cheap commercial tech that people want solar to become.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Science is a filthy tease...

        The problem you really have is that even at 100% efficiency, you won't actually GAIN that much and probably not enough to actually get the everyday cheap commercial tech that people want solar to become.

        Maybe, and maybe not.

        We won't know where is the optimum point on the price/performance curve until we try to commercialize the advanced technologies. In some places, such as the Saudi deserts, lots of low-efficiency panels is probably the way to go because the land area is otherwise useless. On my roof of strictly limited size with the UK's more limited sunshine, and with the cost being dominated by labour not the panels, then panels with 30 or 40% efficiency would be very attractive compared to 20% ones, provided the price is not stupid.

        Who knew back in 1990 that one could churn out 3+GHz CPUs with a billion transistors for under a hundred quid each? Or 10Tb disks for the then price of 1Gb disks? (can't remember the actual size of state-of-the-art disks in 1990, but something like that ).

        1. PNGuinn
          Joke

          Re: Science is a filthy tease...

          100 per cent efficiency?

          Why set such a low limit for yourself? How about 1000 percent?

          This is SCIENCE. We need SCIENCE to save the planet. SCIENCE is our servant. It will do what it is told.

          Get me some better scientists and mathematicians! Get me some venture capitalists who understand SCIENCE!.

          I want my eco friendly solar powered flying car with frikkin lasers, and I want it NOW!

          1. DropBear
            Joke

            Re: Science is a filthy tease...

            "Why set such a low limit for yourself? How about 1000 percent?"

            That's right! Any football team can give 110% but high-tech solar panels can't?!? Science nerds, will you let yourself be humiliated by a bunch of jocks yet again...? Inconceivable! 1000% or bust!!!

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Science is a filthy tease...

            "Why set such a low limit for yourself? How about 1000 percent?"

            I'd settle for ones which output usable power at night

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Science is a filthy tease...

      Meanwhile elsewhere, scientists calculated that the energy needed to create a 54% efficient device would only be 25% paid back by the time it was a useless rotting pile of junk in a solar farm near you.

      Not including the battery to allow it top generate something at night, when electrical lighting is actually useful.

      'There's a reason why plants never developed beyond chlorophyll based photosynthesis' they said 'the energy returns on superficially more efficient processes, and indeed the storage aspects, just aren't there'.

      'The fact is, we simply haven't spent enough money on the technology' responded Natalie Bennett. 'Its obvious that the people who are doing these sums are part of a huge conspiracy engineered by Exxon and the Koch Brothers: Green is the future!' she screamed as white coated 'assistants' dragged her away before she could catch sight of the latest opinion polls, showing the Greens polling even less than the Liberal Democrats.

      On being asked what he thought of renewable energy, the man on the Clapham omnibus replied that mostly, he didn't, but that putting sails on it would be fun, and be a perfect excuse to be late for work on calm days.

    4. Faux Science Slayer

      Photovoltaic is a crude parlor trick....

      Photovoltaic is a one time, one way molecular erosion process. Placing elements with looslely held outer shell electrons are easily stripped for Direct Current flow at average 1 watt per sq-ft at one volt. The freed electron does not return to the PV cell to do more work. There are finite electrons to strip, and none return to do more work. Increasing rate of EROSION only shortens the 'service' life. Reality gives you nothing for free, see....

      "Green Prince of Darkness" at FauxScienceSlayer....every 'sustainable' energy is unsustainable....

      1. cray74

        Re: Photovoltaic is a crude parlor trick....

        The freed electron does not return to the PV cell to do more work. There are finite electrons to strip, and none return to do more work.

        Yep, and you can verify that erosion because after a few seconds of operation photovoltaic panels explode from Coulombic repulsion forces. All those positively-charged ions missing their electrons just tear the cell apart. What are these renewable energy campaigners thinking? A solar farm that loses 1% of its electrons - a process that can happen in seconds** on a sunny day - will experience Coulombic repulsion greater than the binding gravitational energy of Earth.

        Maybe someday someone will think of hooking up both positive and negative leads to a photovoltaic cell so electrons return to the cells and end these planet-destroying menaces.

        **Noting a fluence of about 10^22 photons per square meter of 1000 W sunlight versus a few moles of semiconductor atoms.

      2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        @Faux Science Slayer

        Back again? I thought you'd been sectioned?

  2. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

    Except on satellites, where Watts per kilogram is likely a key metric.

    Struggling to think where this photonic efficiency at 'Damn The Cost' price is a key metric. Perhaps the 'solar powered aircraft' where the limited surface area and power demands could be best served with a solar array achieving 2000% efficiency.

    1. Paul J Turner

      Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

      Maybe so, but the more the power companies lower their watts per dollar the better and better things like this will look. Sooner or later someone will figure out a way of manufacturing them for the right price then it's just a matter of power storage, which is already doable but also needs a price improvement.

    2. IvyKing

      Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

      Watts per total dollars for an installation is what matters. Dirt cheap cells with efficiencies of a few per cent could end up being more expensive when all of the support structure is taken into account.

      Getting the efficiency up to 50% can get some interesting benefits for warm to hot climates, having such panels on the roof would lead to a significantly cooler roof.

    3. Schultz Silver badge

      Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

      No, installation and service cost come into the equation and low-efficiency cells are just not worth the effort to install. There are several factors determining the economic success of a given construction. Including a prism and effectively running two devices won't really help the design discussed here, but having a concentrator (= lens) may eventually create a compelling product.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

        In the long run watts per dollar is the most important metric, but showing a way to do 34% at all is a lot more important than you make it out to be. This is a science problem, figuring out a way to manufacture it efficiently is an engineering problem. Ball's in their court now.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

      Watts per square meter also matters in our UK shoe box size houses that most of us live in..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Watts per Dollar is the only efficiency that actually matters

        Efficiency = watts per square meter.

  3. IT Poser

    Too many questions to know where to start

    Does anyone know where I can find the individual efficiency of each subcell*?

    What happens to the energy lost by the subcell? I assume most of the losses are through heat but what process does it get dissipated through? If it is through IR then can we collect that energy too?

    What are the losses due to the prism?

    *All apologies if I misuse a term I don't yet know.

  4. Schultz Silver badge

    Panasonic already claimed 37%

    According to the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Panasonic already delivered 37% conversion efficiency with a non-concentrator cell in 2015.Maybe something else is new(s)?

    1. MR J

      Re: Panasonic already claimed 37%

      I think the "Breakthrough" is that this light is unfocused, so don't think of it as a "mirror".

      Think of it more like viewing angles on old LCD screens. This tech could work on homes with a fixed design. The Panasonic cell would need a tracking system to directly face the light.

      At least, that's how I read it, I could be wrong ;P

      It will need a lot of changing to ever make it into homes, I expect it will show up in concentrator systems.

  5. Mage Silver badge

    Sounds good

    Unlike a lot of lab ideas and many VC scams this has very sound logical science.

    No doubt rather than solid glass prisms it will use flat film dichroic filters

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Barking in the wrong forest.

    Hats off to them but when I was cutting my teeth making NMOS chips an 8% efficiency polysilicon solar panel took about 20 years to pay for itself. You could get couple of thousand transistors on a chip for $100 and electricity was around 1p a unit.

    Now electricity costs 15 times as much, you can get 100,000,000,000 transistors that run 5000 times as fast for $100 and a solar setup takes around 10 years to pay for itself.

    I do wonder if someone had just concentrated on making 8% polysilicon panels they would now be so cheap they would be used instead of tiles - or indeed metal roofing sheets. I could be putting out >20KW from my barns and my neighbouring farms all have barns that would be 100KW or so.

    The same goes for wind - mass produced 1 or 2kw units should be in the £300 region and pay for themselves in a couple of years. They might not be as physically efficient but effectively free to the consumer in the short term.

    1. scatter

      Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

      The problem with that is that at low panel prices, inverter costs and soft costs start to dominate so it's more cost-effective to use panels that are more efficient, although a bit more expensive.

      A 1 or 2kW wind turbine generates bugger all unless it's in an exceptionally windy spot because it'll be mounted about 10m off the ground with all the turbulence and boundary layer that implies. A large offshore wind turbine will have a hub height over 100m, will knock out 8MW and has a capacity factor of 40% to 50%. With wind turbines bigger is most definitely better.

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

        Microturbines were pushed hard for a few years but failed because they don't work well enough to cover their installation and maintenance costs in domestic settings. The larger commercial ones sitting on a few larger buildings locally suffered the same fate and were all locked of almost immediately to avoid maintenance costs.

        An 8% pv installation would need to cover most of the surface of my city house to generate enough electricity. Labour costs mean it would never pay for itself. Until someone thinks up a way to spray pv on its not a good enough solution for most available locations.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

          >Until someone thinks up a way to spray pv on its not a good enough solution for most available locations.

          Installation costs... not sure that spraying would save that much time. I imagine most of the installation labour costs are those associated with working at heights - erecting scaffolding, basically. This cost could be shared if it is combined with other maintenance work - or the installation of external insulation on the walls of the house (popular in Germany, I'm told, though I've seen it done in England).

          Hmmm... I could imagine a cherry-picker hoisting a rolled-up array of solar panels above the apex of the house, and it could then be unfurled downwards.

          Or a modular array of smaller PV panels, each lifted into place by a few robotic quad-copters, such as these: https://www.ted.com/talks/vijay_kumar_robots_that_fly_and_cooperate?language=en

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

        @scatter Mass production is the key - a grid connected inverter made from silicon and not lots of hand fixed parts should cost around £20 for the controller and lightning protection, £5/KW for the silicon power stuff and £30 or so per KW for the transformer that is required by law for grid connection though probably not necessary. I looked into making these myself - the upfront costs are enormous but if you are producing millions or so that is insignificant in the long run. I was informed there are designs for these already - just for now its not 'what the market is looking for'!

        So for a 2kw windmill you are looking at around £100 for the inverter. A 1kw car alternator is around £50 so say £100 for a 2KW and all you need is a pole an axle and some mass produced blades. Stick it up the side of a house and it WILL produce enough juice to pay for itself in a couple of years.

        Its very cost effective - just not 'efficient'. Cheap cheap electricity - what's the problem?

        1. scatter

          Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

          Well I sincerely doubt you can get costs down that low but it's really not worth the bother. If you check the Warwick wind trials you'll see that micro wind has a capacity factor in the order of 1%. It's really not worth bothering with, however cheap you can make it.

          ETA: in very windy rural locations (like up a mountain in Scotland) then yes micro wind can be made to work. But you may as well stick up a proper wind turbine and get a decent amount of power.

        2. handle

          Re: Barking in the wrong forest.

          No (isolating) transformer is required by law to connect solar panels to the grid - is that different for wind turbines?

          One thing you can't get away from is large capacitors to store the charge necessary to produce mains AC frequency.

          The enormous variation in the power of the wind makes it hard to design something that will produce anything useful at all most of the time without destroying itself in a storm. Turbines also create vibration and noise (you will soon regret bolting one to the side of the house) and require maintenance. A car alternator's front bearing isn't designed to cope with the forces imposed on it by large wind vanes. You would also need to protect the alternator from the weather. People have tried to stick propellors on car alternators for decades with very little success.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In terms of watts per dollar...

    ...you are much, much better off going for solar water heating as it is fantastically efficient compared to the power generation / transmission / consumption cycle used to heat water in the home, and will typically save you more money faster than solar.

    The numbers for this and pretty much every other aspect of the sustainable energy debate are worked out in an excellent book (& pamphlet for the tl;drs out there) that can be found at https://www.withouthotair.com/

    1. scatter

      Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

      Just to add a UK perspective where it's a little bit different:

      Here hot water is predominantly generated using natural gas. Over half of UK boilers are condensing boilers heating water at somewhere around 80% to 85% efficiency and that proportion is growing all the time.

      Hot water only represents only around a fifth of total domestic heat requirements so if solar water heating generated all of your hot water (impossible in the UK) you would save about £150 per year. A more likely figure is about £100 per year. A new solar water heating installation costs about £3,000 to £5,000.

      A 4kW PV system on the other hand costs somewhere around £6,000 to £8,000, generates about 3,600kWh a year which is about the average electricity demand. Assuming you use half and export half then you'll save £180 on avoided electricity costs alone (ignoring feed in tariff and export rates). Also the PV installation is avoiding electricity generated on average at about 50% efficiency at best.

      So there's very little in it in terms of payback times. I love solar water heating though and it would be great if the industry could get the costs down. It's a good fit with solar PV as evacuated tube installations only takes up a small proportion of a house's roof so you can fit PV panels around it as well and get the best of both worlds.

      SEWTHA is a great book but it didn't have all the answers and did slip gradually out of date in some key areas (it was published all the way back in 2008 I think). It was a very important contribution to the energy debate though.

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        Thank you for pointing out usually overlooked fact that what is "best" depends on where in the world you are. Blanket statements without some sort of geographical reference point are going to be just plain wrong for a lot of people.

      2. MR J

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        Unlike some parts of the world, UK generated electricity does not roll the meter backwards. Much of what is generated is not used because people are at work and thus they cant take advantage of it. I have solar panels and a Nissan Leaf but find that only now can I generate power late enough into the evening to charge some of the car while still making electricity.

        As for not being able to generate enough heat via thermal panels for 24/7 usage then no you cant, but with enough panels and enough hot water storage then you could cut it down quite a bit. Bear in mind the ideal solution is a PV-T panel but due to the way the UK market works (pushing people to MCS and their "approved" installers) means that we will not see PV-T any time soon. 16 panels turned into 16 PV-T panels could mean that you end up with too much hot water during peak times.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

          I have solar panels and a Nissan Leaf but find that only now can I generate power late enough into the evening to charge some of the car while still making electricity.

          Well, you could switch to night shift working then your car would have all day to charge...

      3. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        I think you've managed to assume you use half, and half just disappears. Knocking somethings production by 50% will indeed make it's repayment time twice as long :)

        The rough sums I had for NL is about the same costs (4500-6k euros for about 3.5 - 4 kWh*) where power costs us 22c per kWh and excess bought back at ~8c. Gives roughly 380 euro a year savings, and 100-120 refund from the power company. So roughly 500 a year for an investment of roughly 5.5k.

        So payback between 8-12 years, house gets *more* value added than the cost of the system (going from an efficiency rating of E to C), which adds about another 6 months onto the payback period (taxed on value of house).

        So it appears to be a reasonable deal, assuming you've got the funds laying around and you can't get 7% returns someplace else, or 5% without paying tax.

        * that's an average, based on UK like homes. My house is a lot cheaper due to labour costs as it's got a flat roof with relative ease of access, and it's generated 25% over the expected value in the first year.

      4. Killing Time

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        ‘evacuated tube installations only takes up a small proportion of a house's roof so you can fit PV panels around it as well and get the best of both worlds’

        There is little reason to take this approach now as there are commercially available units which monitor the electrical export from your PV array and drive your immersion heater, recovering the energy in the form of hot water rather than export it. Anything more than around 100W export and your immersion heater is fired, (wonderful things, thyristors).

        These units are available at a fraction of the cost of a thermal installation. You do need a hot water tank or Heatstore however you would need one of these for a thermal installation anyway.

        1. scatter

          Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

          Well that's true but I'm not a big fan of those systems. I just prefer the idea of using solar thermal at 50% efficiency to PV at 15%.

          We're off grid and we do use our immersion heater as a diversion load when the batteries are full but if I was grid connected I think I'd prefer to export and have my neighbours use it.

          1. Killing Time

            Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

            @scatter

            I thought your financial and efficiency numbers seemed a bit iffy, vague and dismissive of the FiT income. It seems your usage is atypical, as most people are grid connected and therefore interested in the additional income and savings to be made.

            I personally have both thermal and PV and my numbers say that if the scheme payments supported a bigger roof array at the expense of the solar thermal then that is what I would do.

            The thought of giving the excess generation away to your neighbours is commendable however for most people it’s the payback time that matters.

        2. handle

          Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

          @Killing Time: the thing you've overlooked is the much higher efficiency of hot water production from solar thermal than from diverting exported solar PV into immersion heaters. I looked into the latter in some detail as I have solar PV, and besides the relatively small amount of hot water you'll get, you need things like a large EMI filter and a lots of heatsinking. At least in the UK, PV plus thermal is the best way to go.

      5. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        "Hot water only represents only around a fifth of total domestic heat requirements"

        That depends where you live. In hot climates, solar heat can drive Solarfrost coolers, which puts a big dent in power consumption figures, especially in countries where ACs are forming such a load that rolling blackouts are the order of the week.

      6. Adam 1

        Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

        > A new solar water heating installation costs about £3,000 to £5,000.

        That number is either way out of date or exaggerated due to your local geographical, regulatory and supply considerations. Here in Australia you can get 300L systems from AU$3500 installed before rebates, so that drops to around 2.5K retail. Payback vs 27c/kWh is much quicker than in your scenario.

        1. JeffyPoooh
          Pint

          Re: In terms of watts per dollar...

          @Adam 1

          You're forgetting that the real world conversion rate from any currency (US $, Cdn $, AU $) to UK £ is to scratch out the "$" and write in "£" in its place.

          AU $3500 = £ 3500.

          The bank exchange seemingly has no influence.

  8. Little Mouse
    Flame

    We're thinking about this backwards.

    Instead, I reckon Science should figure out a way to increase the output of the Sun...

    1. DropBear
      Trollface

      Re: We're thinking about this backwards.

      Look, that's a stupid way to think about it - do you really want to switch off the Sun for maintenance and start reassembling hydrogen atoms inside it piecemeal...? Instead, we could just steer the whole Earth into a closer orbit - and considering that would be a lower energy orbit in the gravity well of the sun, pocket all the energy liberated in the process! Win-win!

      1. romanempire
        Mushroom

        Re: We're thinking about this backwards.

        Or better yet, let's build a ring world. More living space, more solar collection area.

        P.

  9. Joefish
    Terminator

    One thing I just discovered about solar panels...

    Energy-saving CFL bulbs are absolutely bloody useless at propelling solar-panel toy cars around. Without the broader spectrum of an incandescent bulb or real sunlight, they're not going anywhere.

    In fact, you're pretty lucky all those calculators keep going...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Critical questions

    While laboratory building and testing produce the given results there are critical questions that have to be answered before any of these things are of PRACTICAL use.

    1) Will it scale? Or, in other words, is it possible to manufacture efficiently.

    2) How durable in use? It is no good if it breaks when flexed or requires constant cleaning, can it even be cleaned.

    3) Is it cost effective to manufacture, sell and use? It has to match all three of those to be commercially viable.

    4) Will a commercial product have a reasonable lifetime?

    1. strum

      Re: Critical questions

      5) Will I run out of excuses for avoiding the 21st century?

      What's really extraordinary is how determined some people are that renewables MUST NOT work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Critical questions

        @strum.

        I don't think anyone is determined that renewables must not work only that they should work WITHOUT taxpayer subsidies. In other words they should be viable on their own merits.

        I would love some of the renewable energy sources to be available to all at reasonable cost and be available to supply reliable energy 24/7/360. Unfortunately that does not happen and all of them require massive injections of taxpayers money to keep the subsidy farmers happy as well as costing several orders of magnitude above conventional energy supplies.

        BTW, my 4 points apply to any new produce being brought to market.

        1. Spit The Dog

          Re: Critical questions

          So UK nuclear was up and running with no taxpayers money? I don't think so. So Hinkley C is going to be built without subsidy? Don't make me laugh. As a UK taxpayer I'm quite happy to pump in an equivalent amount of subsidy to get renewables up and running in this century like nuclear in the last. The previous point is correct, there are people on here that are determined a mix of renewable power MUST NOT work.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Critical questions

            "there are people on here that are determined a mix of renewable power MUST NOT work"

            At best, wind and PV can replace the current UK electricity generation capacity. That would take carpetting the country in turbines and panels.

            Right now the entire wind and PV base is about half the output of the existing nuclear fleet.

            The problem is that to achieve CO2 targets:

            1: All the coal/gas stations need to be shut down.

            2: Gas/oil heating systems need to be shut down

            3: Transportation systems need to move to being 2/3 to 3/4 electric

            That means that not only do you need enough _working_ capacity to replace coal stations, you actually need about 5 times as much as exists today.

            Hinkley point is a fustercluck, as are all water-moderated nuke plants - they should have gone away a long time ago, but the USA stopped Molten Salt reactor research in the early 70s. That's only just started getting rolling again and we're effectively 50 years behind schedule on them.

            The problem with nuke designs isn't the nuclear part, It's the water. Thermal nuclear reactions run best around 600-900C and are self limiting about 1100C (the core of a conventional fuel rod is about this hot), but you can't allow water to get to these temperatures or "really bad things happen". Using it as the heat transfer fluid is a spectacularly bad idea only matched by using molten sodium for the task.

        2. scatter

          Re: Critical questions

          "as well as costing several orders of magnitude above conventional energy supplies"

          Eh? Even FOAK renewables like the proposed tidal lagoons have a strike price the same order of magnitude as Hinkley Point.

          Latest onshore wind and solar prices are substantially below gas and coal in many markets.

      2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: Critical questions

        It's not about renewable energy, it's about viable technologies.

        There are highly reliable. large scale power generation technologies. None of these are green and renewable, the closest being hydro dams and geothermal. Those are pretty dependent on geography, and their failure can be far more damaging than a nuke station going critical. The grid needs to reliably meet it's demands pretty much all of the time, or life is problematic.

        There are moderately reliable power generation technologies that could be classified as renewable. Run of river hydro, tidal, large scale solar concentrators. These work 40 - 95% and are useful as a group, but you still have to either have the base load supply available from elsewhere.

        Then there are the unreliable power generation technologies which are pretty much only any use (from a grid perspective) for reducing demand. That's what almost all renewables come under, they can't actually replace any baseload generation. Wind too slow, wind too fast, or wind too irregular = no wind generation.

        This is not to say that it's not possible to go full renewable. If the grid can choose to not supply demand at various points, then the balancing becomes possible. It's *just* deciding who can and can't have power at certain times. At the point where we have to start living like it's the 19th century (whilst paying current bills) I'd imagine a lot of those nice middle class green voters would change their mind.

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