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Let the Photovoltaic Battle Begin

Let the Photovoltaic Battle Begin

| On 11, Aug 2013

MIT Technology Review recently published a summary article that brings new light to the use of an age old material in bringing down the cost of solar cells significantly.

Perovskite_mineralPerovskites are a plentiful mineral that have been interesting to material scientists in the exploration of superconductivity, magnetoresistance, ionic conductivity, and a multitude of dielectric properties, which are of great importance in microelectronics and telecommunication.

The material has been known for nearly two  centuries (discovered in 1839), but it was only until recently that it was considered for use as a photovoltaics.  They were only first tried in a solar cell in 2009.  First tries converted a meager 3.5% of solar energy into electricity, but only a couple years later scientists blew that away.

“Between 2009 and 2012 there was only one paper. Then in the end of the summer of 2012 it all kicked off,” said Henry Snaith, a physicist at Oxford University, who worked with researchers in Asia. “Efficiencies quickly doubled and then doubled again. And the efficiency is expected to keep growing as researchers apply techniques that have been demonstrated to improve the efficiency of other solar cells.”

EGW Editorial: We’d like to remind readers that it’s critical keep vectors in mind when evaluating technological and economic breakthroughs of any kind– the magnitude and direction of change over time.  Fossil fuel technologies do not see any such “doubling” dynamics, and they have orders of magnitude more money being poured into R&D than renewables.

The material is dirt cheap, and latest conversion efficiencies are up to 15% and rising, making it comparable to existing silicon-based photovoltaic technologies.  Based on recorded performances to-date, and on the known light-conversion properties of Perovskites, researchers project efficiencies could easily rise as high as 20 to 25 percent, perhaps higher.  This as good as the record efficiencies (typically achieved in labs) of the most common types of solar cells today.

Over the several years it’ll take to perform that work on increasing efficiencies, silicon technologies, which are already dropping rapidly in price, may have comparable price-per-efficiency numbers; but from an economic perspective having Perovskite-based technology in the marketplace can only help drive those prices down, and multiply the natural resources available to us to build photovoltaics.  There is not an economic downside to having a plentiful material like Perovskites available to the industry with as good or better performance capabilities to silicon.

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