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European project breaks efficiency record by converting sunlight in electricity

Scientists of the Commission-financed project FULLSPECTRUM have developed photovoltaic (PV) multi-junction (MJ) solar cells which are able to convert 39,7 % of the energy of sun light into electricity. This is the highest percentage ever reached in Europe, according to researchers after their final workshop today in El Escorial, Spain.

The main barrier to large-scale deployment of PV systems is the high production cost of electricity, due to the significant capital investment costs. Research is engaged to reduce manufacturing costs and to raise the efficiency of the cells. Today conventional PV cells made of silicon are converting only a fraction of the solar light spectrum around 17%.

FULLSPECTRUM's multi-junction solar cells are able to catch more sun light energy due to their composition of different materials, including gallium, phosphorus, indium and germanium. These multi-junction solar cells are expensive and have only been used for applications in space. However, the cost can be considerably reduced by arranging them in special panels witch include lenses that focus a large amount of solar energy onto the cells. These concentrators can reach far above 1000 times the natural solar power flux and have also been the object of the project research.

FULLSPECTRUM is an integrated project involving 19 European public and industrial research centres from seven EU Member States, as well as Russia and Switzerland. It is coordinated by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Instituto de Energía Solar and started in November 2003 with an overall budget of € 14,7 Million of with the European Commission financed € 8.4 Million.


The European Commission has spent more than € 105 Million in research on photovoltaic energy since the start of Framework Programme 6 in 2002. Many of the projects are trying to get production costs of silicon solar cells down.

Energy research is constituent of the European Union Energy and Climate Package. One of its ambitious targets for 2020 is to increase by up to 20% the level of renewable energy in the EU's overall final energy consumption. To reach this goal the European Commission started the Strategic Energy Technology (SET)-Plan.

The Solar Europe Industrial Initiative as part of the SET-Plan has recently elevated its target for the participation of photovoltaics in the European electricity demand by 2020 from 3% to 12%. This can be translated into installing from 350 up to 400 GW P (Gigawatt of peak capacity) in photovoltaics, corresponding to an average growth of ~40% per year from today's situation.

Back in 2006, the total installed capacity of PV systems in the EU was 3,4 GW P , representing approximately 0,5% of the total EU electrical capacity. The electricity generated by PV was approximately 2,5 TWh (Terawatthour), or 0,1% of the demand. The annual installations of PV systems in 2006 in the EU reached 1250 Megawatt.

Florian Frank | alfa
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