RGU researcher looks to cut cost of solar panels

Researchers at Robert Gordon University (RGU) are attempting to reduce the cost of solar panels in a bid to boost their usage around the world.

Dr Firdaus Mohammad-SukkiDr Firdaus Muhammad-Sukki is working on refining a cheap and efficient solar concentrator which could potentially reduce the cost of producing a KW of energy via solar power by up to 50 per cent.

To combat the cost associated with the use of a large amount of expensive photovoltaic (PV) material in solar panels, Dr Muhammad-Sukki has developed a solar concentrator which would reduce the amount of PV material required in the manufacturing process.

The device, which is mainly constructed from a low cost refractive or reflective material, focuses the solar radiation from a large entrance aperture area into a smaller exit aperture where a solar cell is attached.

This allows the system to generate a similar or higher electrical output than a conventional PV system, while at the same time using only a fraction of the PV material.

Dr Muhammad-Sukki, who was recently published in international journal Nature, said: “By using an optical concentrator, you get the same output from a much smaller amount of PV material which in turn significantly reduces the costs involved in producing the solar panels.

“I created a first generation concentrator during my PhD which has been patented and while it was effective, there were some issues related to the manufacturing process which I would like to investigate and refine further over the next few years in order to make it lighter, more compact and cheaper.”

He added: “The concentrator can be used for other outputs than simply producing electricity, such as lighting and heating buildings as well, so it is quite a flexible device.

“It can also be tailored to operate at its most efficient depending on the environment it is operating in. For example, there is a lot less sun in Scotland during winter when compared with summer, but by using this technology you can catch as much sun as possible by tweaking an algorithm. That’s the beauty of it.”

Dr Muhammad-Sukki’s aim now is to ensure that the optical concentrator can be commercialised and is looking to carry out tests in Malaysia, working with two universities in the country.

“I have a strong belief in solar and that seems to be borne out around the world with the Middle East and Japan really investing in research and development in this area,” he said.

“For some reason the UK Government is going in the opposite direction which can be quite frustrating. It seems incredibly short sighted.

“Reducing the incentives for people to install solar PV systems, will have an impact on the rate of use. My hope is that by reducing the cost of the systems via the use of optical concentrators then it will make solar power much more attractive to consumers, even without government support.”

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Jenny RushCommunications Officer | Design and Technology