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Innovations in Consumer Solar Panels

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An accomplished medical philanthropist with extensive medical, technological, and business experience, Peter “Pete” Killcommons serves as the CEO of San Francisco-based Medweb, a leading medical software and device company he founded in 1992. Peter Killcommons also possesses a keen interest in solar power for consumers.

In the 1950s, the American scientific development company Bell Labs prototyped the first silicon-based solar panel. Over the next six decades, solar panels have evolved into smaller, lighter, and more cost-effective products. Even in the last decade, the cost of solar panels has fallen by more than 80 percent, according to

Ongoing consumer solar panel research and development efforts are looking to push the envelope of efficiency and cost reduction even further, generating lighter, cheaper, and more efficient panels. For example, researchers at Stanford University developed a lens technology that increases the amount of sunlight a panel collects by roughly four times, thus increasing electrical output. With this technology, solar panels can efficiently produce electricity in both direct and indirect light conditions.

Another focus for the industry is resource sustainability. Silicon semiconductors have remained the mainstay raw material for solar panel manufacturing for decades. Concerns about the depletion of this resource have led to research into other potential raw materials that are more readily available and cheaper. To that aim, technologies like organic photovoltaics and perovskite solar cells have emerged. Some researchers are even building quantum solar cells, which use a minuscule amount of raw material to harness solar energy far more efficiently than current methods. These technologies are collectively called third-generation photovoltaic cells.