There are two major problems with the current silicon panel technology used to generate electricity. For one, silicon is inefficient in converting solar energy. The thinner the silicon panel, the less efficient it becomes. Secondly, silicon panels make up about 45 percent of the total cost of current solar power installations. So thinner panels requiring less silicon would cut down on installation costs.
Now researchers in Australia say they've found a way to make silicon films, 1 to 2 microns thick, into more efficient energy converters. The trick is to impregnate the silicon film surface with small amounts of silver. Silver is highly efficient at absorbing solar energy. Currently, thin silicon films are less than 10 percent efficient at energy absorption. The islands of silver film are about 10 nanometers thick and can boost efficiency of the film to 13 to 15 percent. The scientists say this could make the silicon film economically competitive.