University of Michigan physicists have made a discovery that could very well revolutionize solar panels as we know them. This new discovery is a true advancement in what we know about solar energy and how to utilize the most power from it. Not only will it possibly change the over-all design of solar panels, it could drop the production price dramatically, making solar panels more affordable for people of all economic statuses.
Dr. Stephen Rand, a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Physics and Applied Physics departments, led a team in the discovery of a new technology which could eliminate the need for solar cells and semiconductors–drastically cutting the production costs of solar panels. Reducing manufacturing costs would definitely be a bonus for the solar industry, as companies struggle to compete as the market swiftly merges. This new technology could potentially transform the solar industry, making it a practical option.
So how, exactly does this new technology work? Dr. Rand and his team discovered that at the proper force, light traveling through a non-electrical conductive object can produce a magnetic power up to 100 million times in strength than previously hypothesized. This magnetism can be employed to generate an “optical battery” of sorts.
Solar cells work by absorbing light into their body and generating heat. With this new discovery, a new type of solar cell could possibly be invented- a cell that does not rely on the use of semiconductors, or absorption to construct charge separation.
This process uses “optical rectification.” If you’re unfamiliar with this term, optical rectification is a method in which a light’s electric field causes it’s charges to separate– in other words, the positive and negative charges in the material are pulled apart, creating power as the charges surge together.
Rand and doctoral student William Fisher discovered that under certain situations, light’s magnetic field can cause an identical result in various materials.
“It turns out that the magnetic field starts curving the electrons into a C-shape and they move forward a little each time,” said Fisher. “That C-shape of charge motion generates both an electrical dipole and a magnetic dipole. If we can set up many of these in a row in a long fiber, we can make a huge voltage and by extracting that voltage, we can use it as a power source.”
This would change solar power panels as we know them. Reducing production costs would not only make solar panels more affordable, this new method of electrical generation is also more practical than current solar panels on the market. With solar panels becoming more affordable and more practical, it might not be long before solar power becomes more widespread, just like the garage door, not only throughout the U.S., but throughout the world.