A new process that simultaneously combines the light and heat of solar radiation to generate electricity could offer more than double the efficiency of existing solar cell technology, say the Stanford engineers who discovered it and proved that it works.
The process, called "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, could reduce the costs of solar energy production enough for it to compete with oil as an energy source.
Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil.
Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels -- which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises -- the new process excels at higher temperatures.
Called "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies.
"This is really a conceptual breakthrough, a new energy conversion process, not just a new material or a slightly different tweak," said Nick Melosh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research group. "It is actually something fundamentally different about how you can harvest energy."
And the materials needed to build a device to make the process work are cheap and easily available, meaning the power that comes from it will be affordable.