Solar Energy: The Third Way

The conversion of sunlight into electricity has been dominated by two approaches: photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal power generation. Photovoltaic cells are mostly deployed as flat panels on rooftops or solar farms, while solar-thermal electricity generation technology relying on bulky optical concentrating systems and mechanical heat engines are used in large power plants.

Professor Gang Chen gives an overview of the two current methods of generating electricity from sunlight. He then turns to the potential of using the thermoelectric effect to harness solar energy for the production of electricity. He explains the basics of thermoelectric energy conversion and advanced materials, and then describes solar thermoelectric generators (STEGs) that combine solar power with thermoelectric generators. Dr. Chen explains the increasing popularity of STEGs in Europe and China as these devices become more efficient, less expensive and easier to install compared to other types of solar energy.

Gang Chen, Ph.D., is the C. R. Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Solar Energy: The Third Way

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