Built by Mark Keevers and Martin Green from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the unique prism could help make solar panels cheaper and more efficient. "Instead of what you can get now, which is typically, say, 17 percent [efficiency] modules for your rooftops, in 10 or 20 years, you might be able to buy 34 percent efficient modules, so you'd need half as many for a rooftop to get the same electricity out." Keevers said.
The prism has a sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency rate of 34.5 percent, Keevers toldMashable Australia. That's about a 44 percent improvement in efficiency on the previous record, he said, which sat at 24 percent efficiency but over 800 square centimetres (124 square inches). The UNSW team's record was achieved over a smaller surface area of 28 square centimetres (4.34 square inches).
The prism uses high-purity glass and a special filter to help steer the sunlight so it stays mostly trapped inside, eliminating wastage and works primarily by splitting sunlight into four bands. Inside the prism, solar cells use a particular type of semiconductor material, such as silicon, to optimally convert a particular band of sunlight into electricity.
"Right now, this is a proof of concept prototype," Keevers said. "Of course, it's expensive and we've used expensive materials and techniques." The mini-module cost roughly $3,000 to create, which he said was normal for a lab experiment.
“We're not going to be there tomorrow, but maybe in 10 or so years time, we could be at 34 percent for commercial modules ... it's a possible path to getting higher efficiency sooner," he explained. "Efficiency and cost — they're everything that matters."