Alta believes that the combined thinness and flexibility of the solar cell design will help redefine how solar technology can be used. Alta’s solar technology is attracting interest in the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) market. The increased power-to-weight ratio of Alta’s technology enables different possibilities for an aircraft using the solar cell technology compared with any of the other solar power options.
As an example, on a typical HALE (high altitude long endurance) UAV aircraft, Alta’s solar material requires less than half of the surface area and weighs one-fourth as much while providing the same amount of power as competing thin film technologies. These savings open UAV designers to a variety of alternative design options.
Additional batteries can be installed on the vehicle, providing longer operational life spans and flight times than originally considered. Alternatively, payload functionality can be tailored for higher speed or longer distance wireless communications. Either of these design optimizations translate into a considerable increase in economic value to the aircraft operator.
“Our goal has always been to enable solar power to be useful in configurations and applications that have never before been possible,” explained Rich Kapusta, Alta Devices Chief Marketing Officer. “The UAV application is an important example of how this happens.”
Alta Devices also provides solar technology for a variety of other applications including wearable devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to eliminate the need for battery replacement or recharging.
Solar efficiency is measured and certified by the US Energy Department’s NREL National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). According NREL’s testing, Alta Device’s new dual-junction solar cell is the world’s most efficient 1-sun cell at 31.6% efficiency which marks the seventh overall solar efficiency record that Alta Device has set since 2010.
Alta has achieved the efficiency rating by modifying the company’s basic ‘single-junction’ gallium arsenide (GaAs) material. The company’s dual junction technology builds on the basic GaAs approach, but implements a second junction (or layer) with Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP). Because InGaP uses high-energy photons more efficiently, the new dual-junction cell generates more electricity from the same amount of light than a single-junction device. With the design Alta claims to currently hold both the dual-junction and single-junction records at 31.6% and 28.8% respectively.
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