In late March, a $128 million initiative was launched to improve the costs of solar power. “A significant chunk of the money went to research into materials named after an obscure 19th-century Russian geologist and nobleman: Lev Perovski,” wrote Tom Metcalfe of NBC News. Scientists are on the cusp of discovering a better, more efficient photovoltaic solar cell. It is almost daily that new innovations and technologies are introduced within the solar energy market. Scientists are working on a new solar cell made from a type of crystallized mineral: Perovskite Perovskite could revolutionize solar cells by making it more efficient.
Silicon Solar Cells
Photovoltaic solar panels may be due for an upgrade. Solar panels have relied on silicon for over half a century. Since 1954, silicon has been used in the majority of solar panels. David L. Chandler of the MIT News Office reported that “90% of solar panels are made with silicon.” The U.S Department of Energy (D.O.E) claims that the number is closer to 95%. According to the U.S Department of Energy.
“Photovoltaic technology was born in the United States when Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson developed the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell at Bell Labs—the first solar cell capable of converting enough of the sun’s energy into power to run everyday electrical equipment. Bell Telephone Laboratories produced a silicon solar cell with 4% efficiency and later achieved 11% efficiency.”
Today, solar cells tend to hover around 20% efficiency. Theoretically, silicon cells can reach 29% efficiency. The normal range given by the D.O.E is 18-22%. It’s not just the efficiency that’s improved since its creation. Photovoltaic technology improved over the years. Cost-effectiveness increased as demand also increased.
Perovskite was discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in 1839. The mineral is composed of calcium titanate. The Perovskite crystal has created high expectations and important implications for solar energy. Tom Metcalfe of NBC News reported that perovskite solar cells “could be easily manufactured into a variety of electricity-generating materials, and at much lower temperatures — and therefore potentially lower costs — than silicon cells.” He continued,
“Scientists have now discovered a whole class of perovskite materials that share a specific structure, incorporating three different chemicals within a cubic crystal shape. They recognized years ago that some perovskites were semiconductors, like the silicon used in electronics. But it was only in 2009 that researchers found perovskites could also be used to build solar cells, which turn sunlight into usable electricity.”
Perovskite Solar Cells
Perovskites can be made to be thinner than silicon, so thin that the materials are seemingly “printed” onto other substances. Perovskite’s thinness allows it to be more flexible than Silicon, and in turn, Perovskite can be used on surfaced where Silicon cannot. For example, Perovskite solar can be applied to glass windows. Silicon panels cannot.. Perhaps, the best way to incorporate perovskite cells is to pair them with silicon cells. Pairing cells together increases efficiency. NBC News also reported that:
“the best silicon cells are approaching their theoretical maximum efficiency of about 29 percent. But perovskite cells can be tuned to generate electricity from wavelengths of light that silicon cells don’t use – and so covering silicon solar cells with semi-transparent films of perovskite cells could overcome that fundamental limit. Physicist Henry Snaith at the University of Oxford, a leading researcher in perovskite solar cells, sees this as a way to combine the industrial dominance of silicon with the technological advantages of perovskites. He thinks “tandem” silicon and perovskite cells with efficiencies above 40 percent efficiency could be commercially widespread within ten years, and that they could soon be followed by multilayered cells with efficiencies of over 50 percent.”
This would be an enormous step forward for the solar industry. Improving the efficiency of solar panels means more energy from the sun will be absorbed and converted. Now, this is a positive outlook, but we aren’t quite there. As of now, Perovskites aren’t as durable or stable as silicon cells. As the materials improve, the negatives will start to subside. Until that point, silicon solar cells have become the mainstay in the market for solar energy. Silicon is and will be the most popular and cost-friendly solar cell on the market for quite some time. If you’re interested in learning more about solar, check out our blog. If you live in the Sarasota area and would like a free quote, click here.