Keeping solar cells cool with a transparent surface layer

Silica photonic crystal radiates far-infrared light (heat) into space. Credit: Linxiao Zhu et al./PNAS

The effectiveness of solar panels, that is their capacity in converting solar light into electricity, decreases sharply as the panel increases its temperature. This is a sort of a paradox: as the Sun shines stronger, as it rises on the sky, delivering more light per surface area, that same light heats up the panel and decreases its efficiency.

Clearly, hiding the panel form sunlight would not be a wise move! So the point is to find a way to avoid heating of the panel. And this is what engineers at Stanford managed to do!

They have created a transparent silica pattern that dissipates the heat by emitting infrared light, thus cooling the panel.

The pattern can be created by a lithographic process that is also used for the production of solar panels.  The transparent layer can reduce the surface temperature by 23° F (12° C) and this result in in increase of yield of 1% (which is not trivial in solar panels, since the normal yield is around 14% - record in 2015 was 16%).

The engineers also expect that alternative methods of deposition of this patterned layer can be found letting its use in other fields, like painting your car to keep it cooler in Summer time!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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