The record was achieved by scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, and verified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States.

“This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity,” UNSW Scientia Professor Martin Green said.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia.”

His colleague Dr Mark Keevers said that the experiment had used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, meaning the improved efficiency will be readily accessible to the solar industry.

Renewed hope

The Australian Renewable Energy Association also focused on the commercial benefits, saying: “We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness.”

The potential boost for Australian renewables comes at the perfect time, after it was named the worst-performing industrial country in the world on climate change yesterday, in a report released at COP 20 in Lima.

The science

UNSW scientist reached the 40% efficiency target using a mix of technologies, including heliostat mirror “power tower” concentrators and high-efficiency photovoltaic (PV) cells from Boeing subsidiary, Spectrolab.

But perhaps the most important component was the use of a ‘optical bandpass filter’ which reflects certain wavelengths of light and transmits others. This helps convert the light to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves ever could

Brad Allen

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