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Will we exceed 50% efficiency in photovoltaics?
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Solar energy is the most abundant and reliable source of energy we have to provide for the multi-terawatt challenge we are facing. Although huge, this resource is relatively dispersed. High conversion efficiency is probably necessary for cost effectiveness. Solar cell efficiencies above 40% have been achieved with multijunction (MJ) solar cells. These achievements are here described. Possible paths for improvement are hinted at including third generation photovoltaics concepts. It is concluded that it is very likely that the target of 50% will eventually be achieved. This high efficiency requires operating under concentrated sunlight, partly because concentration helps increase the efficiency but mainly because the cost of the sophisticated cells needed can only be paid by extracting as much electric power form each cell as possible. The optical challenges associated with the concentrator optics and the tools for overcoming them, in particular non-imaging optics, are briefly discussed and the results and trends are described. It is probable that optical efficiency over 90% will be possible in the future. This would lead to a module efficiency of 45%. The manufacturing of a concentrator has to be addressed at three levels of integration: module, array, and photovoltaic(PV) subfield. The PV plant as a whole is very similar than a flat module PV plant with two-axes tracking. At the module level, the development of tools for easy manufacturing and quality control is an important topic. Furthermore, they can accommodate in different position cells with different spectral sensitivities so complementing the effort in manufacturing MJ cells. At the array level, a proper definition of the nameplate watts, since the diffuse light is not used, is under discussion. The cost of installation of arrays in the field can be very much reduced by self aligning tracking control strategies. At the subfield level, aspects such as the self shadowing of arrays causes the CPV subfields to be sparsely packed leading to a ground efficiency, in the range of 10%, that in some cases will be below that of fixed modules of much lower cell efficiency. All this taken into account, High Concentration PV (HCPV) has the opportunity to become the cheapest of the PV technologies and beat the prevalent electricity generation technologies. Of course the way will be paved with challenges, and success is not guaranteed.
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