Vivint Solar inc
Vivint Solar incReuters

It seems solar energy is the future, whether oil companies like it or not. Photovoltaic (PV) cells had an 11 percent efficiency rating at the turn of the century, and 16 years since, solar panels can now covert 34.5 percent of the sun's energy into electricity.

The breakthrough comes from researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, who have successfully exceeded the previous record of 24 percent. The researchers have also managed to make sure that their solar panels are also more compact.

While previous record, set by American company Alta Devices, achieved the efficiency through a PV cell measuring 800 squared centimeters, UNSW's PV cell measured only 28 squared centimeters. The new solar panel, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which verified UNSW's claim, is almost 44 percent more efficient than Alta Devices'.

"This encouraging result shows that there are still advances to come in photovoltaics research to make solar cells even more efficient," said Senior Research Fellow Dr. Mark Keevers. "Extracting more energy from every beam of sunlight is critical to reducing the cost of electricity generated by solar cells as it lowers the investment needed, and delivering payback faster."

According to UNSW, their solar panel works by passing light through a prism to split it into four components — infrared radiation, red, blue and green light. The light then passes through three layers that convert the light into energy, allowing unused wavelengths to pass through to the next.

UNSW adds that such solar panels won't be installed on people's rooftops, though, as they are difficult to maintain and expensive to manufacture. They are, however, best suited for application in solar towers that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight and convert it into electricity.