We can tame even the sun’s energy

What is photovoltaics and is it worth fighting for?
By Roman Gromov

In front of me is a European map of photovoltaics’ potential — as is called the transformation of solar energy into electricity. I’m excited by what I see. Yes, sunniness in Belarus is incomparably lower than in Spain, Italy or Greece but, according to the map, almost all of Belarus up to the northern border has the same potential as the south of Germany!

Recently, thanks to the development of fundamental and applied research in the field of photovoltaics, Germany is focusing on solar energy becoming responsible for 18 percent of its electricity. This must surely be an example for Belarus, even though we have only 30 sunny days a year and 180 partially sunny. Currently, there is no legislation in Belarus regarding solar powered energy sources, so work lies ahead.

“Solar cell development is a priority of our scientific research,” notes the Head of the Photoelectronic Transformers Laboratory at the National Academy of Sciences’ Physics Institute, Valery Zalessky. “The Academy of Sciences is conducting and financing this research for the next five years, jointly with colleagues from the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics and Gomel State University. We are planning a comprehensive programme in this sphere, leaving behind the old-style costly silicon wafers and launching thin-film converters.”

Among the pioneering solutions found by the Institute of Physics is the holographic concentrator of solar emission, which allows a photo-detector to work efficiently, regardless of cloud cover. The idea of collecting rays from a large area and sending them to a solar battery is hardly new; there have been attempts by Western firms. However, the Belarusian holographic lens will allow collection from an area up to 1000 times greater than a traditional photodetector, while being much cheaper — due to the simplicity of its technology. The necessary calculations have been made and the materials have been developed, but designs are yet to be tested. Researchers have drawn on their experience of making similar optical elements for other purposes so have no doubt of the potential of raising the concentration of solar emissions. It will become a breakthrough that will allow Belarus to embrace solar energy fully.

Of course, the development of an effective photoconverter — the main segment in the system — will be the major achievement. An entire industry is required to produce all the necessary components, as well as ensuring the installation and maintenance of solar energy systems and the training of staff. It seems most logical to create a scientific and practical centre for photovoltaics at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, where innovative applied technical solutions can be developed.
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