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Stanford researchers 'cool' sunlight to improve solar cell efficiency

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A team of researchers from Stanford University have devised an ingenious means of boosting the efficiency of solar panels by exploiting a fundamental physics phenomenon. Solar panels lose efficiency as they heat up. Just as the top of your head radiates excess body heat as infrared light, the researchers have developed a translucent overlay comprised of patterned silica that does the same for solar panels. The overlay separates the visible spectrum of light (which generates electricity) from its thermal radiation (aka heat), effectively "cooling" the incoming light, radiating the heat away from the panel while allowing more photons to be converted into electricity. The team, led by Stanford professor Shanhui Fan, recently published their findings in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Solar arrays must face the sun to function, even though that heat is detrimental to efficiency," Fan said in a statement. "Our thermal overlay allows sunlight to pass through, preserving or even enhancing sunlight absorption, but it also cools the cell by radiating the heat out and improving the cell efficiency." According to the team's tests, the overlay cooled the panels surface by as much as 22 degrees F and boosted energy production by 1 percent (a sizable efficiency jump in the world of solar energy production).

[Image Credit: Getty]

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