The dark side of solar power: Super-black solar cell absorbs 99.7% of light

A collaboration between Natcore Tech and the US Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has birthed the darkest silicon solar cells in the world. The cells absorb 99.7% of all light that occurs on its surface–only 0.3% of light is reflected. By comparison, most solar cells commercially available today absorb just 95% of incident irradiation. The main advantage of the super-black cells is their ability to perform almost as well in cloudy conditions as in full sunlight. $150,000USD will be invested in the collaborative project, whose aims are to facilitate commercial uptake of the cells by reducing their price tag by 2-3% and to increase the daily solar output of a panel from 3-10% without using the use of solar tracking technology.

Although peak efficiency of the cell, at 18.6%, is not record-setting, its amenability to inclement weather means that it will potentially produce more kilowatt-hours (kWh) of power per day than other cells with nominally higher peak efficiency. “This technology will play an important role in moving forward the availability of solar technologies. It is one more step to help bolster the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade,” said NREL Vice President for Commercialisation & Technology Transfer William Farris said in a press release.

Solar PV cells and modules are becoming increasingly more efficient and cheaper as time passes, due in part to the public and private support provided for research and development into innovations like the super-black silicon solar cells. It is incremental efficiency improvements such as those used here that have enabled polycrystalline silicon to become as efficient as monocrystalline at comparable cost.

Once these technologies become mass-produced and widely available, price points come down and the overall affordability of solar PV comes increases. It is the mass production of solar PV technology that has played a major role in driving down prices to record low levels globally.

Top image via Natcore Technology

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