Here's how Australian scientists created the world's most efficient solar panel

Dr Mark Keevers with the four-junction solar mini-module. Image: Supplied.

Australian engineers have set a new world record for solar panels with a conversion efficiency of 34.5%.

The solar cell configuration developed at the University of New South Wales nudges closer to the theoretical limits of sunlight-to-electricity conversion.

The photovoltaics record was set by Dr Mark Keevers and Professor Martin Green at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics.

They used a device which splits incoming rays into four bands to squeeze more electricity from each beam of sunlight.

The result is almost 44% better than the previous record set in the US by Alta Devices with a 24% efficiency.

Keevers says extracting more energy from every beam of sunlight is critical for reducing the cost of electricity from solar cells. The idea is to lower the investment in panels and deliver a return on investment faster.

“Things are moving faster in solar cell efficiency than many experts expected, and that’s good news for solar energy,” he says.

“But we must maintain the pace of photovoltaic research in Australia to ensure that we not only build on such tremendous results, but continue to bring benefits back to Australia.”

The scientists say Australia’s research in photovoltaics has already generated flow-on benefits of more than $8 billion.

The theoretical limit for a four-junction device used in the UNSW breakthrough is thought to be 53%, which puts the latest result two-thirds of the way there.

These multi-junction solar cells are unlikely to find their way to the rooftops of homes soon because they require more effort to manufacture and cost more than standard crystalline silicon cells.

However, the UNSW team is working on techniques to reduce the manufacturing complexity and create cheaper multi-junction cells.

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