Scientists at University of Warwick have achieved a solar power breakthrough by developing a ‘double-glazed’ solar power device that could pave way for more advanced photovoltaics.
The new ‘double-glazing’ solar power device is unlike any existing solar panel as it uses gas – rather than vacuum – to transport electrical energy. The new solar power device is the result of work carried out by by Dr Gavin Bell and Dr Yorck Ramachers from Warwick’s Department of Physics.
The device is essentially a thin double-glazed window. The outer pane is transparent and conducts electricity. The inner window is coated with a special material, which acts a source of electrons under illumination by sunlight – this is called a “photocathode”. The two panes are separated by a safe inert gas, such as argon – exactly as is found in high quality double glazing windows.
When sunlight hits the device, electrons are knocked out of the photocathode and bounce through the gas to the outer pane without being absorbed or lost. This is totally different to how electrons act in existing solar panels, and opens up the possibility of improving solar power generation methods – whereas improvements in classic photovoltaics are hard to come by.
The electrons are then collected and the electrical energy pumped into the grid. This can be done through a gas-filled gap rather than a vacuum which would be far more cost-effective for any practical device.
The optimal material for the photosensitive layer still needs to be identified, and the researchers have proposed a range of candidate materials – including thin films of diamond, which would be very robust and long-lasting.
The transparency of the photocathode could be varied, leading to the possibility of tinted windows generating solar power.