Researchers at Purdue University have created a new structure based on the opal gemstone that, if integrated into a thin-film photovoltaic (PV) solar module, could lead to more efficient panels that are 100 times cheaper than conventional solar power technology.

Thin-film solar cells use considerably less silicon than conventional panels, but they’re much less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. The Purdue team replaced silicon with a material they referred to as “inverse opal,” meaning that it has light absorption properties that are the opposite of opal found in nature.

“Usually, in thin-film silicon solar cells much of the sunlight comes right back out, but using our approach the light comes in and it is diffracted, causing it to propagate in a parallel path within the film,” Peter Bermel, an assistant professor in Purdue University, told the school’s website.

The goal of scientists working with thin-film solar cells is to increase efficiency to around 20 percent, which is comparable to that of conventional modules. Currently, thin-film solar has efficiency rates in the single digits.

The study was funded in part by support from U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health and other public agencies, demonstrating the importance of public financing in developing solar technology.

Remember that you don’t need to wait for “inverse opal” to become commercially available in order to take advantage of the benefits of solar power. West Coast Solar can design a rooftop PV system for you that will deliver significant utility bill savings. Contact us today to schedule a solar site analysis.