Another Day, Another Solar Efficiency Record

When I first started writing for RenewableEnergyWorld late last year, I was warned by my editor that Moore’s Law did not apply.

I disagreed then and disagree now. Moore’s Law was originally stated in the mid-1960s by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who estimated that the number of circuits on a given silicon wafer might double every year or two as far out in time as he could see.

Mr. Moore himself has always been reticent about applying his law to other matters, even to calling it a law. He was trained as a chemist, spent his life as an engineer, and broad statements of “always” and “never” are anathema to him.

Still, the capacity of circuits kept doubling. Over time exponential improvements started showing up in related areas, in storage and networking. Moore’s Law, and the technologies it spawned, created the abundance of computer processing power we enjoy today. The technologies spawned by silicon semiconductors have stretched the reach of every trained mind as nothing has since the printing press.

So we come to solar cells. The basic technology for creating a flat solar panel is similar to that for creating a silicon chip wafer. Efficiency doesn’t double every year, as chip capacities have. But they’re not locked into a ceiling either, as we once thought.

Today’s news is that Sunrise Global Solar Energy of Taiwan claims it has produced production panels with 19.2% efficiency, with help from selective emitter technology from Schmid Group of Germany, which also creates flat panel displays and printed circuit boards. (The standard efficiency for flat panels is usually about 15.3%, I am told.)

Good on them.

I have a very expansive view of Moore’s Law. (Moore turned 82 this year. This is his Wikipedia image. I root for engineers like some people root for baseball stars.)

I see it as improvements building on themselves, creating exponential change thanks to the combined efforts of everyone connected by the resources Moore’s Law has built. Even if efficiency stayed the same, and production didn’t grow, we could nearly double the production of solar power every year as far out in time as I can see.

But efficiency is going up, production capacity is going up, and there are improvements in sub-systems, in legal standards, and in connectors happening all the time.

Which tells me we can grow even faster. Solar energy can be Moore’s Law on steroids. (Unlike the situation with baseball, that is the only sentence that could include both Moore and steroids inside it. Makes me a happy fan.)

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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