Local researchers say they have broken the record for converting sunlight into electricity.

A team from the University of New South Wales says it achieved an efficiency rate of over 40 per cent in recent tests.

The result has been independently confirmed and the record officially set, after a review by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) outdoor test facility in the US.

“We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry,” said Dr Mark Keevers, manager of the project.

The high score comes from a custom optical bandpass filter that was used to capture sunlight normally wasted by commercial solar cells.

The filter catches the missed rays and converts them to electricity at a higher efficiency than the solar cells themselves.

“The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia,” said UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green.

The project was made possible with funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV).

“We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations. Ultimately, more efficient commercial solar plants will make renewable energy cheaper, increasing its competitiveness,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht.

Mr Frischknecht said the project also demonstrated the value of investing in Australian renewable energy ingenuity.

It is the latest in a long string of solar power achievements for UNSW, which was responsible for the first photovoltaic system to reach 20 per cent efficiency back in 1989.

A report on the stunning 40 per cent efficiency score will be published in an upcoming edition of the Progress in Photovoltaics journal.

UPDATE: A new record has been claimed by European engineers, using slightly different equipment, and is covered here.