AUSTRALIA-CHINA: Research partnership harnesses the sun

Solar panels have been notoriously expensive, but they could become more
affordable because of a partnership between the Australian National University (ANU) and Chinese scientists.

Mirroring Aussie surfers trying to beat the heat, the new technology will immerse solar cells in a cooling fluid to create up to 70% more efficiency when converting sunlight into heat and power.

Project leaders from the Canberra-based ANU and Tianjin University in China announced the project in mid-August, suggesting their work would "pioneer" the way towards affordable solar energy.

"The project will benefit from ANU expertise in building cost-effective solar cells, and Tianjin University's capabilities in chemical engineering," said Professor Andrew Blakers, director of ANU's ARC Centre for Solar Energy Systems.

The new solar receivers are already attracting commercial interest around the world, from countries and individuals looking for greener - and sunnier - energy sources.

ANU's Dr Igor Skryabin said that once the project was completed in 2012 the solar concentrators, which can store much more energy when immersed in liquid, were likely to be in high demand from consumers eager to install solar heating and power.

"Simultaneous provision of heat and electrical power is an attractive feature of our concentrators," said Skryabin in a university communiqué. "This is in high demand for both residential and commercial customers. We are receiving inquiries from willing customers in Australia and overseas almost daily."

Researchers from Tianjin University also expect an enthusiastic response in China, where the government and energy companies are beginning to encourage a competitive energy alternative in the form of solar electricity and heat.