Solar power could become cheaper and more efficient thanks to a new method that creates electricity from invisible light

Workers install solar panels on a home in Palmetto Bay, FloridaJoe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Two recent studies signal major breakthroughs in solar energy that could make solar panels cheaper and more efficient.
  • In the first, researchers uncovered a method of converting low-wavelength light that's invisible to the human eye into electricity, suggesting more energy can be harvested from sunlight.
  • Another study suggests that silicon solar panels could be replaced with a material called perovskites, which is cheaper and more lightweight.
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New discoveries in solar energy could make it cheaper and more efficient to transform sunlight into electricity, potentially reshaping the renewable energy market.

The breakthroughs were featured in two recent studies, published in Nature Energy and Nature Photonics and first reported by The Independent. While solar is traditionally seen as less energy-efficient than other resources, the new discoveries could change that.

The first study, led by researchers at RMIT University, Australia's UNSW, and the University of Kentucky, found that low-energy light that's invisible to the human eye can be "upconverted" using oxygen to generate electricity, which could allow solar panels to generate more energy using the same amount of sunlight.
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"I'm very hopeful and think that we can improve the efficiency quickly. I think it's quite exciting for everyone," UNSW professor and lead researcher Elham Gholizadeh said in a statement.

Another recent study led by the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan found that solar panels may be more inexpensive and efficient if built with a material called perovskites rather than silicon, which most current solar panels are made of.

Both studies are preliminary — the methods involved have yet to be tested more broadly. But scientists hope their breakthroughs can pave the way for more efficient solar power in the commercial sector.
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"Scaling up is very demanding; any defects in the material become more pronounced so you need high-quality materials and better fabrication techniques," Luis Ono, one of the Okinawa Institute study's authors, said in a statement.

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