July 27, 2012

NIST Measurement Advance Could Speed Innovation in Solar Devices

(July 27, 2012) A new versatile measurement system devised by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) accurately and quickly measures the electric power output of solar energy devices, capabilities useful to researchers and manufacturers working to develop and make next-generation solar energy cells.

Innovative devices that convert sunlight to electric power more efficiently and cost effectively than the current generation of solar cell technology are the objects of a global pursuit—means to reducing fossil-fuel consumption and to securing pole position in the competition for fast-growing international markets for clean energy sources.

As reported in the journal Applied Optics,* the NIST team has combined 32 LEDs—each generating light from different segments of the solar spectrum—and other off-the-shelf equipment with their custom-made technologies to build a system that measures the wavelength-dependent quantum efficiency of solar devices over a relatively large area.

Anticipated advantages over current approaches—most of which use incandescent lamps or xenon arc and other types of discharge lamps—are greater speed and ease of operation, more uniform illumination, and a service life that is about 10 times longer.

The new NIST system for measuring spectral response easily accommodates two unique but complementary methods for determining how much electric current a solar, or photovoltaic (PV), device generates when hit by a standard amount of sunlight. Both methods are straightforward, and they use the same hardware setup.

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