Perovskite: the key to cheap solar power


As the demand for solar energy and photovoltaic cells increases, several manufacturers invest in developing technologies to increase the efficiency and reduce the production cost of the equipment.

Until recently cheaper materials were chosen, so the quality and efficiency of photovoltaic modules to be the major issue. However, a new discovery may mark the transition to cheaper photovoltaic higher performance. The basis of this transition may be the substitution of silicon with perovskite.

The new type of solar cell, made from perovskite that is dramatically cheaper to obtain and use than silicon, could generate as much power as today’s commodity solar cells. Although the potential of the material is just starting to be understood, it has caught the attention of the world’s leading solar researchers, and several companies are already working to commercialize it.

In the past, solar researchers have been divided into two camps in their pursuit of cheaper solar power. Some have sought solar cells that can be made very cheaply but that have the downside of being relatively inefficient. Lately, more researchers have focused on developing very high efficiency cells, even if they require more expensive manufacturing techniques.

The new material may make it possible to get the best of both worlds—solar cells that are highly efficient but also cheap to make.

Perovskites have been known for over a century, but no one thought to try them in solar cells until relatively recently. The particular material the researchers are using is very good at absorbing light. While conventional silicon solar panels use materials that are about 180 micrometers thick, the new solar cells use less than one micrometer of material to capture the same amount of sunlight. The pigment is a semiconductor that is also good at transporting the electric charge created when light hits it.

A challenge may be the fact that the material includes a small amount of lead, which is toxic. Tests will be needed to show how toxic it is as part of the perovskite material. Steps can also be taken to ensure the solar cells are collected and recycled to prevent the materials from getting into the environment—the approach pursued now with the lead-acid starter batteries used in cars. It may also be possible to substitute tin or some other element for lead in the cells.


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