Multiple teams of scientists have achieved a breakthrough in boosting the efficiency of solar panels due to a new material – perovskite. Their current key milestone of 30% energy efficiency has been surpassed, with the new technology pushing the limits of solar energy forward.
Current solar panels utilize silicon-based cells, but they are quickly reaching their limit in converting sunlight into electricity, which stands at 29%. Meanwhile, there is a pressing need to multiply the installation rate of solar power by ten to address the climate crisis.
The breakthrough is adding a layer of perovskite – another semiconductor – on top of the silicon layer. Perovskite captures blue light from the visible spectrum, while the silicon captures red light, boosting the total light captured overall. With more energy absorbed per cell, the cost of solar electricity is even cheaper, and deployment can proceed faster to help keep global heating under control.
Experts have stated that if the mass production of these cells goes smoothly, we could expect to see them commercially available within 5 years – the same time it takes silicone-only cells to reach their maximum efficiency.
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Professor Stefaan De Wolf, at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, states “It’s very exciting that things are moving rapidly with multiple groups.”
Two groups published the details of their breakthroughs in the journal Science on Thursday, and at least two others are known to have pushed well beyond 30%.
Another group, led by Prof Steve Albrecht at the Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy in Germany, has published their findings on how they achieved cells with efficiencies of up to 32.5% for silicone-perovskite cells.
A third group, led by Dr Xin Yu Chin at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, have shown an efficiency of up to 31.25% whilst also claiming that these new cells have the “potential for both high efficiency and low manufacturing costs.”
“Overcoming the 30% threshold provides confidence that high performance, low-cost PVs can be brought to the market,” said De Wolf. Global solar power capacity reached 1.2 terawatts (TW) in 2022. “Yet to avert the catastrophic scenarios associated with global warming, the total capacity needs to increase to about 75TW by 2050,” he said.
Despite the positive prospects for the new cells, an issue still remains to be resolved – how fast the cells degrade within real-world conditions. Current cells can have up to 90% of their capacity after 25 years, something which the new cells will have to match at the very least. Although, regardless of any advancements with the durability of the cells, De Wolf says that, “There’s still lots of room to go further (in cell capacity threshold) … I believe that the practical limit is well beyond 35%.”