LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15, 2001 — A newly developed solar cell designed and built by Spectrolab, Inc., that is capable of record-breaking efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity is among the year’s 100 most significant technologies selected by Research & Development Magazine.
The award is for a type of Spectrolab terrestrial solar cells that could enhance people’s lives by dramatically lowering the cost of solar electricity generation. Spectrolab is a unit of Boeing Satellite Systems, which is a business of The Boeing Company.
Known as a triple-junction terrestrial concentrator solar cell, this Spectrolab technology has achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 34 percent in laboratory tests, which means that it is the first to exceed the goal of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) One-Third-of-a-Sun initiative. Spectrolab has already received an order from Arizona Public Service, Arizona’s largest and longest-serving electric utility, for 140 kilowatts of terrestrial concentrator receivers populated with its high efficiency triple-junction solar cells.
“We’re very proud to be among the companies whose technology was selected for this award,” said David Lillington, president of Spectrolab. “Beside being a very prestigious technical award, this honor recognizes excellence in products that are actually being developed, with real application that benefits mankind. This solar cell, when used in the appropriate light concentrating system, has the potential to be competitive with conventional electricity generation technologies in the future. Because they achieve such tremendous efficiencies but are still relatively inexpensive to manufacture, these solar cells could dramatically reduce the cost of electricity generation from solar energy.”
Spectrolab shares the magazine’s award with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the DoE’s premier laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research, development and deployment. Spectrolab and NREL applied jointly for the award and have collaborated on advanced solar cell technologies since the mid-1990s. NREL also validated the 34 percent efficiency of the Spectrolab solar cells.
The solar cell is called triple-junction because it employs a three-layered structure that is more effective than other structures in capturing and converting solar spectrum into electricity. Each of the three junctions captures and converts a different portion of the solar spectrum.
Another key feature of these solar cells is their ability to withstand the energy of highly concentrated sunlight. Using concentrated sunlight reduces the number of cells needed to generate a given amount of power. These triple-junction cells were able to achieve 34 percent conversion efficiency under a concentration of 400 suns.
This high power and energy helps to lower the cost per watt represented by these solar cells. For example, at 400 suns concentration and with megawatt-scale production, these solar cells can be made for less than $1 per watt. In addition, the capability of Spectrolab’s cells to operate at still higher solar concentrations allows for further cost reduction, approaching 50 cents per watt. This has the potential to make such concentrator systems cost-competitive with conventional power generation.
With manufacturing facilities already at hand for making similar space cells, Spectrolab has the capability to make hundreds of megawatts of the triple-junction concentrator solar cells per year.
Established in 1963, the R&D 100 Awards recognize the 100 most technologically significant new products and processes of the year. According to the magazine, winners are products and processes that can change people’s lives for the better, through improvements attributable to significant breakthroughs in technology. Past recipients have included products such as the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm antismoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996), and high-definition television (1998).
The winning technology will be featured in a September 2001 article in R&D and showcased at an R&D Magazine awards gala on October 4.
Spectrolab was founded in 1958 and has been supplying solar cells and panels to the space industry for more than 40 years. Pioneer 1, launched in 1958, carried the first body-mounted panels used in space. Today, the most powerful satellite to orbit Earth, a Boeing 702 with a power output of 18 kW at beginning of life (BOL), is powered by Spectrolab solar cells and panels. Spectrolab also supplied the solar cells in the solar panels on the International Space Station.
Spectrolab is headquartered in Sylmar, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. It also is a supplier of searchlights and solar simulators. Visit Spectrolab’s web site at www.spectrolab.com.
Boeing is the world’s manufacturer of commercial communications satellites, and is also a major provider of space systems, satellites, and payloads for national defense, science and environmental applications.
The Boeing Company is the largest aerospace company in the world and the United States’ exporter. It is NASA’s largest contractor and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft. The company’s capabilities in aerospace also include rotorcraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, rocket engines, launch vehicles, satellites, and advanced information and communication systems. The company has an extensive global reach with customers in 145 countries.