Professor Charles Chi Surya poses for a photo with perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells… [+] World’s highest power conversion efficiency. 12Apr16 SCMP/KY Cheng (Photo by KY Cheng/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
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Microsoft founder Bill Gates is backing a solar cell manufacturer that could produce more energy than traditional solar cells. Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures has money on Massachusetts-based CubicPV, which makes photovoltaic cells using perovskite – a composite that produces at least 20% more energy than the prevailing silicon technology.
The perovskite material still has to prove its durability. But if it can, the technology could skyrocket solar power’s market share to include 54% of all electricity added to the grid in 2023, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“The sun never raises its price and there are no blackouts,” says Chris Case, chief technology officer of UK-based Oxford PV. “It’s the ideal energy source.”
In a virtual conversation, Case pointed out that the University of Oxford spun off Oxford PV in 2010. Norwegian oil giant Equinor backs the venture, which is building a solar cell manufacturing facility in Germany. Oxford PV combines silicon and perovskite cells, increasing the efficiency rate. In other words, ultrathin cells capture “photons”, and convert them into electricity. And whatever unit goes in, it comes out as more energy.
Take a square meter at noon: the sun creates 1,000 watts of energy. Waiting one hour yields 1,000 watt-hours of power. If the efficiency rate is 25%, we get 250 watts from one square meter. However, by using perovskite, we can achieve up to 40% or 350 watts.
“I get at least 20% more power from my panels using the same space,” Case says. “The only big thing is our appetite for power, which forces us to generate more power in those areas. Where we don’t have much space.” In fact, for the US to reduce its CO2 levels by 80% by 2050, it will have to double the electrification rate over the next 15 years. The focus will be on energy efficiency, decarbonized electricity, transport, building and industry electrification.
This technology combines silicon and perovskite cells – known as a ‘tandem’ – making it more expensive than conventional solar modules. However, utilities realize returns because they can generate more energy.
Will the weather persist?
A view shows photovoltaic solar panels at the power plant at La Colle des Meuse, Alpes d’Haute… [+] Provence, south-eastern France, on April 17, 2019. – 112,000 solar panels cover an area of 200 hectares with a total capacity of 100MW. (Photo by Gerard Julien/AFP) (Photo credit should read Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images)
AFP via Getty Images
Solar power manufacturers are looking ahead. For example, Arizona-based First Solar FSLR purchased Evolar, a European leader in perovskite technology.
Mark Widmer, Chief Executive Officer of First Solar, said, “With this acquisition, combined with our new Innovation Center in the United States and a long-term commitment to R&D, we are shaping not only the future of First Solar, but the future of solar energy.” Are also investing in. “We anticipate that high-efficiency tandem PV modules will define the future, accelerating decarbonization by allowing us to more efficiently convert sunlight into clean electricity.”
Meanwhile, Chinese solar panel maker GCL System Integration introduced a 320-watt and hardwearing perovskite solar module. China’s Microquanta presented similar evidence.
Of course, perovskite solar cells are subject to weather conditions, which can hinder their performance. “Manufacturers have yet to deliver on their promises of commercial perovskite products. One problem that plagues perovskites is that they degrade when exposed to oxygen, moisture and light, says an article in IEEE’s Spectrum.
Martin Green, a solar cell researcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told CNBC that perovskites hold a lot of promise. Still, questions remain whether these can be commercially viable. “Although progress has been made since the first perovskite cells were reported, the only field data published for such tandem cells with competitive efficiency shows that even when carefully encapsulated they will only survive for a few months.”
The broader solar market still has high expectations for the technology. According to Precedence Research, the perovskite market was valued at $94 million in 2022. But it could be worth $2.5 billion in 2032 – a 32% compound annual growth rate.
Case at Oxford PV told me the company has demonstration projects that maintain its solar cells for 25 to 30 years. Furthermore, he says that 20,000 people are working on this technology, while national governments are also trying to increase solar power. This also includes the United States, which has allocated $800 million for the Inflation Reduction Act.
Asia now makes and exports the majority of solar modules. However, most modules are glass and steel frames, while solar cells contain a small amount. “We’re using boats to ship glass long distances,” says Case. “At a minimum, we should be building modules closer to where the power will be used. If the US is not able to immediately scale up solar manufacturing, it jeopardizes energy security.
Perovskites may be more efficient than silicon solar cells, but the outstanding question is whether they are long-lasting. If the companies can achieve this result, it will take the solar field into a new stratosphere.