New Solar Tech Uses Both Light and Heat to Nearly Triple Energy-Gathering Efficiency

Stanford engineers have figured out a new way to make solar panels that use both the sun's light and heat to generate energy. It's a discover that could double the efficiency of solar panels.

With today's photovoltaic panels, as the sun heats them up, they get less efficient. They can't use the heat to generate energy, just the light. And as their temperatures reach 100 degrees Celsius, they stop working altogether.

But by coating a piece of semiconducting material with a thin layer of the metal celsium, it allows the panels to use both light and heat to gather juice.

The device they've created, dubbed the "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, doesn't even hit peak efficiency until it reaches well over 200 degrees Celsius. This will make them perfect for solar concentrators such as parabolic dishes, which focus the suns rays and can get as hot as 800 degrees Celsius.

When combined with a thermal conversion cycle that would use its high-temp waste heat, the system could reach 55% efficiency or even higher, which would be nearly twice the efficiency of today's systems. Awesome. [Stanford via Slashdot]