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Dirt Cheap Solar Cells Could Be Coming

Dirt Cheap Solar Cells Could Be Coming

Image source: flickr.com/photos/jesse

With today’s solar panels typically retailing for around $.75 USD, it’s no wonder that home solar power systems aren’t more widespread, as it takes a considerable investment to install a home-scale solar array.

But if you can imagine a world where access to solar power could be as cheap as $.10 to .20 USD per watt, it’s simple to see that installing solar power systems for buildings and homes would become more of the norm, enabling owners to not only save money, but to be somewhat self-sufficient in their energy systems.

And that day could be coming, as a new type of solar cell that can be made from low-cost materials using simple and potentially cheap technology is rapidly catching up in efficiency to conventional silicon solar cells.

The material for these new cells, called perovskite, was tried in solar cells in 2009, but they were both very inefficient (~3.5%), and very short-lived, due to the way they were constructed, which required a liquid electrolyte.

The new generation of perovskite solar cells are built by spreading the material, along with additional layers to facilitate electron movement in the cell, onto a thin sheet of foil or glass, eliminating the need for a liquid electrolyte. The cells use less than 1 micrometer of material to harvest the same amount of sunlight that current panels do with a 180 micrometer thickness, and because the material is also a superconductor, it can also transport the charge that it creates.

According to Technology Review, Michael Grätzel, who is currently working on perovskite solar cells that can hit an efficiency 15%, says “The material is dirt cheap,” which could radically change the cost of mass-produced solar if the new cells get to production levels.

Researchers believe that the efficiency of perovskite solar cells can be improved to at least 20 to 25%, based on past improvements in the technology, at which point they would be competitive with the higher-priced silicon panels.

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