By Huck Fairman
A recent online piece announced what sounds like a significant solar power breakthrough. Until now solar power has had some drawbacks, but a recent development could take solar power to new heights of eco-harmony, while also being kind to our wallets. This is the benefit of perovskite solar cells.
Perovskite is a semiconductor crystal similar to silicon. Semiconductors are really useful in electrical engineering, as you can build all manner of stuff with them, including computer chips, LEDs, camera sensors, and even solar cells. In fact, the vast majority of solar panels today are made from silicon, as it makes for incredibly durable and long-lasting cells.
But perovskite-based solar cells have the potential to be far, far better. Firstly, they can be manufactured easily and at room temperature, unlike silicon cells, which need long and complex baking processes at extremely high temperatures. This means that perovskite cells are much cheaper to manufacture and have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. But perovskite cells are also far more efficient. Most silicon panel solar farms have an efficiency of around 18%, meaning 18% of the solar radiation energy that hits the panels is turned into electricity, whereas perovskite cells are about 25% efficient, making them 38% more efficient than silicon.
Unfortunately, perovskite cells have been nowhere near as durable. A bog-standard silicon panel will last for around 20 years or so before it loses efficiency. Early perovskite cells would only last a few minutes, making them utterly useless.
However, a recent study from Princeton University blew this hypothesis out of the water, as they found that their perovskite cells could last an astonishing 30 years! Moreover, the cells still maintained a relatively high level of efficiency, meaning no compromises were made to achieve this, and it put them on par with silicon panels. So, in theory, this panel could go on sale today! If all goes well, this technology could be commercially viable in the next 10, maybe even five, years.