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Solar’s Big Hope: Perovskite Solar Panels

Nathan Quinn

It seems like we’re living in a golden age for solar innovation, at exhibitions such as Intersolar and SNEC PV are full of impressive developments in panels and efficiency levels. There is a pressing reason for this innovation, the dropping of solar subsidies have put the whole industry on a path to innovate or lose out to rival technologies. In Europe this trend is being keenly felt by developers and contractors and it seems their answer is Perovskite panels. This article is intended to provide a quick overview of the technology.

Silicon Vs Perovskite

Silicon-based solar power has dominated the solar power industry since its inception, and while improvements have been made and manufacturing costs have decreased, there are still areas where silicon is lacking. Perovskites are crystal structured compounds composed of chlorine, bromine, iodine, and lead. They are very good at absorbing certain wavelengths of light, particularly high energy blue light when compared to its silicon alternative. Since perovskite cells have a broader range of absorption, they have the potential to convert more light energy to electric energy.

Scientific researchers have found that by using perovskite and silicon technology in tandem, they can reach new levels of energy efficiency, up to around 28%, from a maximum of around 23% for traditional solar panels. Perovskites are naturally occurring compounds, originally hailing from the Ural Mountains in western Russia, but they can also be synthesized in a lab cheaply, making them a great fit for mass-produced solar cells. Silicon cells still currently have some advantages over perovskite cells since the manufacturing of silicon cells has already been streamlined for maximum efficiency over the decades and perovskites have suffered from public scrutiny over the use of lead.

The Lead Problem

One key challenge to scaling up the use of perovskite cells is that it may cause lead pollutants to be released into the environment, especially where the cell is exposed to extreme weather conditions such as acid rain or natural disasters.

Professor Yabing Qi said, a leading energy scientist, said:

"While so-called 'lead-free' technology is worth exploring, it has not yet achieved efficiency and stability comparable to lead-based approaches. Finding ways of using lead in PSCs [perovskite solar cells] while keeping it from leaking into the environment, therefore, is a crucial step for commercialization."

However, this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for PCS in Europe. Professor Qi worked with the OSIT Technology Development and Innovation Center to develop an epoxy resin layer that coats the PSC and vastly reduces lead leakage. With the manufacturing cost of PSC coming down and the concerns over lead leakage being mitigated, perovskite cells are finally becoming commercially viable.

Perovskite Innovation in Europe

The new findings are not lost on the EU, where enthusiasm for perovskite solar cells remains high. The EU recently launched the European Perovskite Initiative to facilitate “joint-research programs and synergies among universities, institutes and companies” all in an effort to advance the perovskite cell technology. Some prestigious universities and cutting-edge institutions are in the line up to push the technology forward, including the University of Oxford, Delft University of Technology (NL), CEA – Institut National de l’Energie Solaire – INES (FR), and many more.

Institutions will tackle advancing this technology in different ways. For example, Oxford PV, an Oxford University spinoff, has been printing perovskite cell layers on to traditional silicon-based cells. Other institutions may choose to go the lead-free route, and others may try to abandon silicon altogether. Whatever they decide, it’s clear that Europe is trying to lead the way to a perovskite solar cells-based future.