Although the average solar panels sold in the U.S. today are efficient enough to fully power your home or business and then some, the quest for greater efficiency is still of utmost importance to the future of solar energy. As with other technologies, greater efficiency means you can do more with less. This translates to more streamlined production processes, greater solar output, cheaper prices, fewer panels required to power homes and other structures, less land required for solar farms, and an overall more affordable cost of doing business.
Last January, we wrote a blog regarding the ongoing technological improvement of solar panel efficiency. In it, we highlighted some new methods being studied that could push solar panel output past even the most optimistic expectations. Modern residential and commercial solar panels are approximately 18%-22% efficient. While this more than meets our needs, scientists and researchers are looking to push solar panel efficiency to its theoretical limit of 33% and beyond. One of ways they may achieve this goal is by using a substance called perovskite in solar panel manufacturing.
Perovskite is mineral first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia, but is also present in the Magnet Cove area in central Arkansas as well as other places around the globe. The name Perovskite also refers to other mineral elements that have the same crystalline structure. It is this unique crystalline structure that makes it a good match for generating solar energy.
The use of perovskites in solar panels has been steadily improving over the past 10 years and can now boast an efficiency rating of approximately 20%. However, they do have drawbacks. According the the U.S. Department of Energy, perovskites “don’t stand up well to moisture, oxygen, or extended periods of light, or high heat.” In short, they degrade faster than commonly used silicon. Perovskite solar panels are also challenging to manufacture at scale, which makes them expensive. However, engineers are working to overcome this limitation.
A better use of perovskites is not as a replacement for silicon, but as a supplement to it. By combining this mineral in layers with silicon, you can better increase solar panel efficiency. According to an article by online magazine EOS, using this technique increased solar panel efficiency to 29.5%. In addition, researchers speculate that with further refinement, efficiencies could reach up to 33%. Using perovskites in tandem with silicon also doesn’t disrupt current manufacturing techniques, which makes it easier to scale to the market. However, this process is just beginning, and it may be several years before such panels become commercially available on a wide scale.
Another recent development is solar technology comes from a company called SunDrive in Australia. According to an article by Interesting Engineering, SunDrive has created a solar cell that is 25.54% efficient, a new world record. They achieved this by finding a way to substitute copper for silver, which is used as the primary conductor in solar panels. If this technology can be scaled and brought to market, it would not only increase solar panel efficiency, but also reduce its cost to manufacture.
SunDrive says it isn’t ready to bring the technology to market and is currently in the process of developing a manufacturing line that can produce these panels on a large scale. If all goes well, company officials hope to have them commercially available by 2023.
These are just a few of the technologies that are making solar energy more useful and efficient. Although not immediately available, you can count on these advancements being used on a wide scale in the years to come.
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