Insolight’s Optical Tech Funnels Sunlight onto Super Efficient Solar Cells

Solar start-up Insolight has created a solar panel design that delivers a new record in energy conversion efficiency. The company, which is part of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) Innovation Park, announced it had reached 36.4% energy conversion efficiency. That makes Insolight panels more efficient than any other residential solar panel — and about twice the efficiency of the majority of residential solar cells available today.

The cells were tested by an independent lab, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, which confirmed the remarkable 36.4% efficiency performance. Insolight hopes to reach 40% efficiency in energy conversion for its solar panels.

The solar panel is comprised of a small, high efficiency solar cell that’s typically used in space industry applications. Insolight has developed a thin plastic structure that fits on top of the cell and works to boost the amount of sunlight directed at the cell, and yield twice the amount of electricity for the same surface area as mainstream residential PV solar panels offer.

The product uses a thin transparent plastic optical system made up of tiny millimetric lenses that work as magnifiers. Insolight has also developed a micro-tracking system that enables each magnifier to tilt just a few millimeters over the course of the day to track the sun’s position in real time. That means the solar panel remains flat, and doesn’t need any of the bulky or expensive tracking systems typically used in solar arrays. The company claims its micro-tracking system is able to capture 100% of available sunlight on a given day.

“Our idea was to move the problem from semiconductors to optics,” said Insolight co-founder Laurent Coulot, in an interview with Venture Lab. “We designed a novel solution to simplify the sun tracking and light concentration, allowing us to make the most efficient and cost effective solar cells using affordable technologies, with the aim to reach a 40% efficiency.”

The panels can be manufactured and brought to market relatively quickly, according to Insolight’s executives, but because they use super-cells, the panels will likely be more expensive than some of the traditional PV panels available on the market. But Coulot said the panel design could bring the price of electricity down to below 10 cents per kilowatt hour. And because the panels remain flat, they can be installed on rooftops.
Watch a video about the cells here:

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