Australian startup SunDrive has made a breakthrough in solar energy by creating the most efficient and cheapest solar panel ever. Vince Allen, a young scientist, invented the technology all by himself while working in his garage and it surpassed the multibillion-dollar designs of Chinese companies, Bloomberg writes.
Vince Allen decided to replace silver, which is usually used to output electricity from solar panels, with a cheaper material - copper. The 32-year-old PhD candidate from the University of New South Wales built research and development equipment in his garage and tried to apply copper to create solar panels in different ways until he found a working method.
00To bring the new technology to market, Allen founded SunDrive Solar in 2015. This week, the firm received official word that its development broke the record for efficiency in converting light into electricity. That was the result of an analysis by the independent German Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin (ISFH). The SunDrive Solar battery's efficiency score was 25.54 percent. The previous record of 25.26 percent was set by Chinese giant Longi Green Energy Technology. The Asian company was sold last year for $8.4 billion.
If the Australian startup can bring its development to the global market, the cost of solar panels will drop significantly, and the industry will become much less dependent on silver. "Copper is very common and usually costs about 100 times less than silver," Allen explained. To date, SunDrive has raised about $7.5 million from Blackbird Ventures and other major investors. In addition, the young venture has received a grant of more than two million dollars from the state's Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which promotes green technology.
About 95 percent of the solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells - small cells of silicon wafers that convert the sun's energy into direct electric current. To get the current out, you have to connect the cells with metal contacts. For this purpose, manufacturers have long used silver, since this metal has high strength and ductility. However, silver can account for up to 15 percent of the cost of a solar panel. Former Suntech Power Holdings head Shi Zhengjun, nicknamed the Sun King for his huge role in the industry, became an investor in SunDrive and said researchers have long been trying to apply copper to the creation of solar panels. "Switching to copper is something we've wanted for a long time, but it's been very difficult to achieve," he said. Shea also expressed hope that manufacturers will switch to using silver and copper in a 50/50 ratio.
The solar energy sector is growing as the environmental agenda becomes more relevant. In 2020, global solar panel production grew at a record high, with the total capacity of installations increasing by 23 percent to 760 gigawatts.