Solar energy as a cheap source of electricity could be on the brink of a commercial breakthrough.
Munich’s new fairground, to be opened next spring, will be the largest single producer of electricity generated from solar energy, with an annual output of just 1MW which is fed directly into the fairground’s grid. The rooftop generating station, costing DM15m, consists of 656,208 individual voltaic cells placed atop 38,000m2 of exhibition halls. The installation is being engineered by Siemens Solar, the world’s largest maker of photovoltaic systems.
In the Bavarian hamlet of Flanitzhutte, all five homes depend on the sun for electricity. Photovoltaic cells convert the sun’s energy into electricity stored in batteries. Families can survive without sun for three days; for longer periods a generator powered by liquid gas takes over.
Meanwhile, researchers at Penn State University in the US report a breakthrough in the cost-effectiveness of a solar power cell made from silicon. The work, funded by US and Japanese companies, could see commercial production within five years. The catch is the low rate of conversion of light to electricity, put at little more than 10% for industrial solar products.