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Canadian researchers in cell breakthrough for PVT systems

University researchers discover amorphous silicon could provide heat and solar solution

The research combining solar and heat could be a breakthrough for PV cell development

Canadian researchers have contributed to a breakthrough in solar cell technology that could lead to the next generation of PVT systems generating both high power and heat. Researchers at Queen’s University in Canada have discovered that amorphous cells provide greater heat and 10 per cent higher solar output than traditional crystal silicon cells. This could pave the way for more efficient PVT technology.  

Solar PVTs are traditionally made with crystal silicon cells which generate electricity, but little heat. Researchers at the university’s mechanical and materials engineering department, designed and tested amorphous silicon cells in a PVT system. The research showed increased heat generation and a 10 per cent boost in solar power output.

Researcher Joshua Pearce said: “These studies open up an entirely new application of amorphous silicon and make a highly-economic PVT possible. We need both solar electricity and solar heating in Canada but we are running into “roof real estate” issues. Now people can have both their solar electricity and solar heating combined in a nice tidy package.”

Amorphous silicon has several advantages over crystal silicon, according to Queen’s. This includes that they require less material and cheaper manufacturing costs, which gives higher returns on investment. Queen’s research has also shown that amorphous silicon solar cells can be made into thicker cells as long as they are operated at higher temperatures in a PVT system.

In their research paper on the study, Stephen Harrison and Pearce said: “Typically, a main focus of a PVT system is to cool the photovoltaic cells to improve the electrical performance. However, this causes the thermal component to under-perform compared to a solar thermal collector. The low temperature coefficients of amorphous silicon allow for the PV cells to be operated at higher temperatures and are a potential candidate for a more symbiotic PVT system.”

The research has been published in the solar journals Solar Energy and Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.