Researchers looking to bolster the efficiency of solar panels have concluded that the answer lies in some advanced double-glazing.

A new solar power device – unlike any existing solar panel – has been invented by a team of researchers at the University of Warwick, promising to take the benefits of double glazing and bring it to solar energy.

Publishing its findings in the journal Joule, the team revealed that it is essentially a double-glazed window but, unlike other photovoltaic panels, it uses gas – rather than a vacuum – to transport electrical energy.

The outer pane is transparent and conducts electricity, while the inner window is coated with a special material acting as a source of electrons under illumination by sunlight, known as a photocathode.

Just like in double-glazed windows, a safe, inert gas such as argon is placed between the layers to transport the energy. When sunlight hits the device, electrons are knocked out of the photocathode and bounce through the gas to the outer pane without being absorbed or lost.

Diamond possibilities
This seemingly simple method opens up the possibility of improving solar power-generation methods, and is easier than trying to create improvements in classic photovoltaics.

Dr Gavin Bell of the research team commented: “It’s satisfying to find a new twist on ideas dating back to the start of the 20th century and, as a materials physicist, it is fascinating to be looking for materials which would operate in an environment so different to standard photocathodes.”

The focus of the research will now turn to what the best material is to use for the photosensitive layer, with the leading candidate being thin films of diamond as they are very robust and long-lasting.

“We think the materials challenge is really critical here so we wanted to encourage the materials science community to get creative,” Bell said.

“Our device is radically different from standard photovoltaics, and can even be adapted for other green technologies, such as turning heat directly into electricity, so we hope this work will inspire new advances.”

Read more: Diamond-film, double-glazed solar panels could offer serious power