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June 30th, 2010
The words "solar energy" and "Spanish sunshine" are apparently made for each other. Indeed, the research and development community in Spain has established a high profile in this field over the years, of a standard comparable to world leaders. Manufacturing in the 70s, followed by world-class academic research in succeeding decades, lead to highly successful spin-out companies in the 1990s. This attracted multinational solar companies to Spain.
Today, the Spanish research effort continues with the LIMA (Light Interaction with MAtter) European FP7 project.
To put efficiencies in context, work by University of New South Wales in Sydney has lead to silicon textured cells with efficiencies of over 24% reported over a decade ago. This is, in fact, only slightly less than the silicon fundamental efficiency limit of slightly over 25%. And despite this, commercial terrestrial cell efficiencies are typically in the 16% to 17% range under standard test conditions (STC). These are mainly based on omnipresent, abundant and non-toxic silicon. In this context, the relatively low commercial efficiencies achieved are puzzling, being that they are significantly lower than the record. And solar photovoltaic power remains tantalizingly close, and yet more expensive than the canonical 1$/Wp cost often quoted as the economical break-even cost. This suggests that current technologies, as ever, need a fundamental shift to achieve greater efficiencies, and makes new ideas increasingly attractive as time goes by.
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