Bringing solar power to light for further efficiencies & innovations

Photovoltaic solar panels available on the market now suffer from low efficiency, silicon based cells have an average of 17% currently, curtailing a more widespread adoption. However, a new silicon based solar cell from Dresden, Germany-based Apollon GmbH & Co has managed to achieve 28% efficiency – potentially remapping the adoption of photovoltaic solar power. Couple this with two breakthrough inventions – circuit breaker from ABB capable of converting energy to direct current and carry over long distances, and gravity-powered LED lamps – light can be brought to places previously deemed too remote or too expensive. Read more

“Game-Changing” Solar Invention Announced

By Nicholas Brown in Cleantechnica (30 January 2013):

Holographic film used with highly efficient solar cells to create “game-changing” solar panel.

I have seen my share of outstanding solar innovations, such as concentrated solar setups using tiny gallium arsenide cells that achieve an astounding 42% efficiency. However, I’ve been eagerly waiting for an outstanding innovation made from more abundant materials such as silicon.

The main reason is that silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, so it should remain cheap and available as long as needed.

Almost all of the silicon solar panels (aka solar modules) on the market are between 10% and 20% efficient, so it is high time for a module that is both constructed from abundant materials and is much more efficient.

The Dresden-based company Apollon GmbH & Co. KG and Solar Bankers LLC, which is based on Arizona, claim that they have developed a new silicon-based solar panel with a holographic foil that is twice as efficient as typical models, and that they are so cheap they can be manufactured in Germany or the USA at a lower cost than factories in China manufacture conventional solar panels.

They said that their solar modules achieve 28% efficiency, which is considerably higher than the average 17% efficiency on the solar module market. They have done so through advanced Concentrated Solar Photovoltaic module development — in particular, the use of light selection, deflection, and concentration. And the companies expect an even better efficiency soon.

“Our solution addresses the major downsides that make today’s photovoltaic (PV) technologies unprofitable. These disadvantages arise mainly from the material silicon as well as from efficiency losses, which result e.g. through heat occurring from concentration,” declares Jost.

This translates into much lower silicon requirements to generate the same amount of power. The companies note: “Contrary to today’s PV modules, this system only needs a fraction of the semiconductor material while the performance per square meter of the module surface is almost twice as high as conventional PV. The module is based on a holographic optic, which is a strong contrast to other concentrator photovoltaic modules using expensive flat lenses (e.g. Fresnel lenses).”

Jost says: “The holographic element is printed on the cover glass and filters the sunlight hitting the solar cell. The printing process allows an economical duplication and simultaneously saves laser and development work, usually necessary when using holographic elements.”



By Alison Kemper and Roger Martin in Guardian Sustainable Business (23 January 2013):

Two inventions that have the power to transform energy use

Two very different companies have come up with innovative technologies that could transform how renewable energy and light are used


A circuit breaker invented by ABB could allow renewable energy to be converted to high voltage and carried long distances. Photograph: Michael Nelson/EPA

Late in 2012, we became aware of two very different companies that have created new technologies to change the way light and power are distributed. Their ideas gave us a renewed sense of the power of innovation, which we need to ensure a sustainable future.

Big company ABB’s breakthrough circuit breaker

One of the biggest issues for renewable energy is that few users live in the mountaintops or offshore areas where much wind power is generated, and no one needs electricity in the deserts of North Africa. Instead, the energy that is generated is often converted to high voltage direct current (HVDC) and carried long distances on HVDC lines. They are cheaper to operate and more efficient conductors than AC transmission lines.

This type of technology has been limited because no one had invented a HVDC circuit breaker, a critical component in a stable and safe grid.

But last November, ABB announced that they had invented a HVDC breaker. “ABB has written a new chapter in the history of electrical engineering,” said Joe Hogan, chief executive of ABB. “This historical breakthrough will make it possible to build the grid of the future.

“Overlay DC grids will be able to interconnect countries and continents, balance loads and reinforce the existing AC transmission networks … HVDC technology is needed to facilitate the long distance transfer of power from hydropower plants, the integration of offshore wind power, the development of visionary solar projects, and the interconnection of different power networks.”

No doubt ABB has added a certain level of trumpeting to their announcement, but it is exciting to see progress in this area.

Tiny company‘s great prototype – a weight-powered LED

One of the great distinctions between the world’s poor and poorest is the absence of electrical lights in the homes of the latter group. Throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia, people light kerosene lamps, candles or oil lamps to see at night, risking burns, respiratory health and increasing their risk of cancer. They also spend a significant proportion of their income on kerosene and add CO2 to atmosphere.

The increasing availability and decreasing price of LED lights has a great deal of potential to change this landscape. But in terms of electricity supply, most people who live far from the grid have little cash to pay for the solar cells and battery storage systems that power solar lighting. People have less money to pay for ongoing maintenance and support of larger systems, so solar lighting becomes a project for communities rather than households.

While new microfinance schemes might provide a solution, microfinance institutions do not generally provide consumer product financing and have little infrastructure to allow for the installation and upkeep of solar lighting systems. And cheaper lamps with self contained batteries are low powered and have a limited battery life. In short, solar may not always be the best solution for lighting the homes of people on low incomes.

A skunkworks project by London-based industrial design company,, has devised a completely different solution. GravityLightis a lamp powered by the descent of a 9kg (20lb) weight that is pulled up at 20-30 minute intervals by the user. Like the weights on a grandfather clock, the lamp’s weights store potential energy and release it to power the LEDs in their slow descent. There are no cells to gather energy from the sun, no batteries in which to store it; it’s a self contained unit.

The company hopes to be able to sell it for $5-10 (£3-6), a fraction of the cost of an equivalent solar powered lamp.

Innovations like these two are precisely why sustainable business is critical to our future. We need large scale, safe, reliable HVDC lines to transmit renewably generated power from deserts and sea beds to industrial and residential users. Thanks to ABB, we are now better able to gain renewable energy economies of scale impossible before their invention of the HVDC breaker.

And students, families, shopkeepers and farmers who need cheap, safe, non-polluting lighting, may soon be able to afford a reliable lamp.

Let’s hope that 2013 is a year of more far-reaching innovation.

Alison Kemper teaches management at York University in Toronto, Canada, and has worked with the Michael Lee-Chin Institute for Corporate Citizenship since 2005

Roger Martin is dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and is academic director of the school’s Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship. His research work is in integrative thinking, business design, corporate social responsibility and country competitiveness. His most recent book is Fixing the Game.

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