Environmental Laboratory

  • Will New Technology Make Solar Power more Affordable?

Will New Technology Make Solar Power more Affordable?

Jan 27 2016

Even despite the huge advances made in solar power technology over recent years, it still provides a miniscule fraction of the total energy production worldwide. Despite increased efficiency and falling prices as a result of mass competition from Chinese markets, solar energy still only accounts for less than 1% of our total energy supply.

Why Has Solar not Taken Off?

The reason for the sluggishness to adopt solar panels are manifold. Although efficiency has been improved over the last few years, a typical photovoltaic (PV) cell (which has the market cornered with more 95% of its share) is effective at converting a mere 25% of the sun’s rays into electricity.

Furthermore, solar energy can still have substantial start-up costs. Despite heavy government subsidy, investing in a solar panel system can be a significant outlay which takes years to pay itself off, while the fact that existing solar systems must be added onto buildings after their construction (and not during the construction process) adds extra costs in terms of labour and added materials.

An Innovative Alternative

However, a new competitor in the market may be about to change all of that. An Australian energy company named Dyesol is pursuing a new type of solar panel known as perovskite solar. This technology combines organic PV cells with dye-sensitised solar power to create a new form of generating electricity which has the potential to be cheaper, more flexible and much, much more efficient.

In the last six years, perovskite solar has increased its efficiency from a mere 3.8% to 20% today, meaning it is almost at the same level as PV cells already. Experts have predicted that it could one day reach an efficiency level of 66%, which would obviously blow existing solar technology out of the water. For more information on how solar efficiency and panel yield is measured, check out this informative article.

Economical as well as Efficient

As well as potentially being far more efficient than PV cells, perovskite solar also could be theoretically much cheaper and more flexible. Since the new technology uses solar-sensitive sheets that are hundreds of times thinner than traditional materials, less material is needed. Therefore, costs are lower.

“A classic silicon device has a fairly thick layer in order to effectively capture light; around 150 microns,” explained Damion Milliken, chief technician at Dyesol. “Perovskites are exceptionally strong light absorbers and can absorb the same amount of light with a layer of around 0.3 microns. When you start to do the bill of materials analysis, you start to work out that the contacts are just a couple of dollars per square metre in terms of active material costs, which is spectacularly low. So, the panel costs half or less compared to traditional panels.”

Meanwhile, perovskites also have the ability to be integrated into the building process, thus removing the additional cost and labour of adding them at a later stage. Furthermore, they can also be chemically-altered to adjust their transparency and colour. This means they can fit seamlessly and easily onto existing buildings or form part of the initial plan at the building stage.

Clearly, the future is looking good for perovskites and for Dyesol. If they are able to remain on track with their predicted efficiency rates, this new technology could just be the advance that brings solar truly into the mainstream.

Image Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory



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