Researchers make new cooling material to boost solar efficiency

Solar cells are less efficient when they're hot, which poses an obvious problem — solar cells sit in direct sunlight and get incredibly hot as a result. Solar researchers have spent years trying to develop a solution to this problem, and Stanford is perhaps at the top of the list when it comes to new developments. Latest among its efforts is a new thin material that can be laid over traditional solar cells to reduce heat exposure.

This material is said to be both patterned and thin, and made of silica. It is transparent, allowing sunlight to reach the solar cells, but also works to both capture and then emit the thermal radiation, helping keep the panels cool. As the temperature decreases, the efficiency increases.

The Stanford team developed and detailed a similar creation around this time last year. According to the university, the experiments demonstrated that it is possible to decrease the temperature of the solar panels by up to 23F — if the solar cell has an efficiency level of 20 percent to start with, this cooling would then improve the energy production by more than 1%.

In the case of the newest materials, the researchers found that clear and dry environments are ideal — the same kind of environments were large solar arrays are located. Nanoprint lithography or other technologies could make it possible to use this material on a large, commercial scale.

The material could also potentially be used on other outdoor surfaces that need to stay cool, such as your car's body or your porch's floor.

SOURCE: Stanford