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The future of Solar Cell Efficiency

Published: November 28, 2018 Last Updated: September 23, 2020

Renewable energy sources and alternative sources of power are becoming increasingly important for our future and it's not just in regards to our environment, but also as a sustainable resource. It’s no surprise that many scientists are looking deeper into existing technology and pushing the boundaries in Solar Efficiency.

Solar Cell Efficiency
A perovskite mineral (calcium titanate) from Kusa, Russia. Image via Wikipedia.

Perovskite Solar Cells

Touted as the fastest-advancing solar technology component, The use of Perovskite in solar cell production is growing at a rapid pace. Known as a 3rd generation Photovoltaic (PV), the solar industry is pushing this mineral to replace the current solar manufacturing processes and cement itself as the very foundation of solar production.

What exactly is Perovskite?

Perovskite is a mineral based compound composed of calcium titanate with a notable crystalline structure. Its name is also applied to the class of compounds which have the same type of crystal structure known as CaTiO₃ - the perovskite structure.

This makes it perfect for Photovoltaics - a phenomenon studied in physics which studies the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, aka solar power.

Perovskite vs Silicon

SciTechDaily has a recent report on the accidental ability of Perovskite to exceed that of traditional silicon in both price and performance:

Scientists at the University of Cambridge studying perovskite materials for next-generation solar cells and flexible LEDs have discovered that they can be more efficient when their chemical compositions are less ordered, vastly simplifying production processes and lowering cost.

As with silicon materials, scientists assumed the more ordered the structure, the more efficient it is. With Perovskite, this is not the case at all. The more disordered it is, the more capable the material is for the photovoltaic effect.

Perovskite usage in Solar Cell Production

Silicon isn’t exactly the most cost effective to produce or is it the fastest process to manufacture when it comes to solar cell production but at the moment, Crystalline Silicon is still the most commonly used material in this process. 

The usage of Perovskite material in solar production could also unshackle traditional solar cell technology and offer far more advances and use in the future:

  • The lead salts used to make solar cells are much more abundant and cheaper to produce than crystalline silicon
  • The components used to make the perovskite can be changed to give the materials different colors and structural properties
  • You only need a very thin film of this perovskite material – around one thousand times thinner than a human hair – to achieve similar efficiencies to the silicon wafers currently used

Perovskite Disadvantages

As with any new technology there can be downsides and despite the obvious advantages, It's not all positive when it comes to Perovskite solar cell production. When Perovskite is broken down, one of its breakdown products is a toxic substance called Pbi and there is also the issue of lead being used in most Perovskite cell production. Despite these issues, the science behind this method of solar production is constantly improving as the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

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