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What does the future hold for Solar Panels?

The efficiency of solar panels is constantly improving, generally through improvements in the technology of the photovoltaic cells themselves. For example, Sydney scientists have just broken the World record for solar cell efficiency, twice. Matt Edwards, based at the University of New South Wales, said that commonly used silicon cells found in domestic systems have an efficiency, at the moment, of about 18%. However, with a new laser process, his team managed to manufacture silicon cells with a 19.3% efficiency in May, breaking the World record once, and again in June at 19.4%. Given the costs of installing domestic solar panels, usually around £10,000 or more, this efficiency increase represents an improvement in returns on this investment for households of about 7%, therefore helping encourage their adoption across the UK when this technology becomes widespread. For a large solar cell company, Dr Edwards claimed it would represent a "cost saving of the order of $100 million per year to the bottom line of a large solar cell company". The team's next goal? To produce efficiencies of more than 21% by the end of 2012 with these low-cost silicon cells.

However, whilst the economic benefits of these improvements are exciting, they aren't the sort of thing that will truly excite an every day person! What is cool though, is the new technology that has been developed to turn windows into a solar electricity generating system. Sweet!

Professor Chris Binns, team leader of this development by Norwegian company EnSol AS, said: "One of the key advantages is that it is a transparent thin film that can be coated onto window glass so that windows in buildings can also become power generators. Conversely, the structural material of the building can also be coated. This could be side panels of the building itself or even in the form of 'clip-together' solar roof tiles."

This opens up the possibility of individual flats and apartments being able to take advantage of renewable energy. Indeed, Professor Binns said that "It could even be used on the roofs of cars to charge up batteries - although powering the vehicles themselves would probably be pushing it" - so there are some limits at the moment.

They hope to release this unique patented film commercially by 2016 for households. It'll be interesting to see the price and efficiency compared to regular silicon solar cells.