Solar energy has been one of the biggest innovations within the past few decades. Now, a company in the UK is using a group of materials called perovskites to create the “next generation of solar panels.” The company claims that the materials could make solar power twice as efficient as it is now, and it’s flexible enough to wrap around entire buildings.
Solar energy as a power source first appeared in the 1950’s in New Jersey. At the time Bell Labs created a silicon-based solar panel that was expensive, but effective enough to turn 6% of sunlight into electricity powerful enough to power everyday electrical equipment. As time went on the cost of solar panels went down but the use of silicon remained. Today, panels can turn up to 22% of the light emitted from the sun into power.
Oxford PV is the company that’s based out of the University of Oxford that initially began using perovskites for solar power back in 2018. The company found that when they coated the silicone used in the development of solar panels with perovskite, they achieved 28% efficiency in terms of converting solar energy into electricity. The company believes, however, the technology can get that percentage up to 40%.
So what exactly does this mean in terms of the future of solar energy? As solar cells improve in efficiency, less solar panels are needed to power certain buildings, meaning costs for solar panels will decrease, and the amount of land, labor, and equipment needed to operate the panels would also decrease and simplify. This would mean more average individuals can begin implementing this type of technology in their own homes, and not just individuals of a higher working class who can afford it. Henry Snaith is the co-founder of Oxford PV and recently spoke to the press about the company’s major breakthrough.
“If we want to make it that all new power generation is solar photovoltaics, then we need to keep driving the price down. One way to do that is to keep pushing the efficiency or the power output of the module up, and this is where perovskites really come into play.”
Perovskite was initially discovered as a material in the 1800’s, but Oxford PV uses a synthetic version that’s made from more inexpensive materials that are abundant in the Earth’s crust. This way the cost of material remains low, while other companies attempting to use the same materials are using different more expensive variations. The perk of perovskite is that it works monumentally better in the shade or on cloudy days when compared to regular panels with just silicone at the base. The goal, according to Snaith, is to replace silicone entirely with perovskite.
“In the coming decades, all perovskite solar coatings promise to raise efficiencies even further, reduce the weight and shipping cost of solar equipment. As the technology develops, perovskite could be sprayed or rolled onto flexible surfaces.”
Oxford PV will begin producing solar cells made from perovskite on top of silicone early next year in a newly acquired factory in Germany. The company is estimating that the panels could save homeowners currently using solar panels up to $1,000 on the purchase and installation of these newer panels.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.