Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient

Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient – , Michael Moore’s controversial new climate change documentary, fossil fuel-based climate denial groups are pursuing wind and solar power with renewed fervor, rehashing the film’s flawed old narratives about the poor performance and unreliability of these energy sources.

Those points include saying that solar energy is highly inefficient, as director Jeff Gibbs demonstrated by visiting a solar farm in Michigan where photovoltaic panels convert “less than 8 percent” of the energy from sunlight into electricity. But that level of efficiency is, as photovoltaics-focused publication PV Magazine puts it, “from another solar era”: Today’s standard silicon solar panels operate at about 22 percent efficiency. And a new crystalline material called perovskite could further increase the efficiency of sunlight.

Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient

Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient

Photovoltaic solar cells—the individual units that make up a solar panel like rooftop tiles—are plate-like devices made of materials called semiconductors that convert sunlight into electricity. But the best semiconductors absorb only a fraction of the light that falls on them. Sunlight covers a wide range of wavelengths, and depending on the nature of the semiconductor and the design of the cell, some of that light is reflected, some is transmitted, and some is absorbed. energy must be converted to heat before it can be extinguished. use. Designing new solar cells that convert more sunlight into electricity or have higher conversion efficiencies across the solar energy spectrum is one of the most active areas of research today. .

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Perovskites first caught the attention of the solar community more than a decade ago, when scientists discovered that this unique class of semiconductors has a unique ability to convert sunlight into energy. Today, perovskites are at the center of efforts to develop a new generation of thin-film solar cells that are cheaper than Gibbs’ solar farm tour and about four times more efficient.

. The field is in full swing: In late April, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced the formation of the US Consortium for Advanced Perovskite Manufacturing (US-MAP) to develop technologies based on perovskite acceleration.

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US-MAP Director Joseph Berry said the consortium will enable government researchers, scientists and private companies to pool resources and brainpower to tackle the biggest hurdles facing the commercialization of perovskite solar cells. : Makes soft material more stable, which is easily cut. .

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Perovskite refers to any compound that shares the same crystal structure as the mineral perovskite called calcium titanate. The perovskites of interest to the solar industry are not produced from Earth, but are prepared in the laboratory. In these synthetic or “hybrid” perovskites, various organic compounds, metals and halides (reactive elements including chlorides, bromides and iodides) are combined in the crystalline region for calcium and titanium. Due to their unique structure and chemical composition, hybrid perovskites have great power: they absorb sunlight well. “They are terrible in terms of power conversion efficiency,” Berry said.

While silicon solar cells have a maximum efficiency of about 29 percent, a single layer of perovskite can theoretically achieve an efficiency of about 33 percent. By combining perovskites sensitive to different parts of the solar radiation spectrum to form tandem cells, the efficiency can be increased even more – perhaps more than 40 percent, says Jao Van De Lagemaat, head of the Center for Chemistry and Chemistry. nanoscience. at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“It requires a lot of engineering,” Van De Lagemat said. But some researchers have shown that devices with two perovskite layers are more efficient than single-perovskite solar cells, he said. Traditional silicon cells can be made more efficient by adding perovskites.

Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient

Not only are perovskites better at harvesting sunlight than silicon, solar cells that rely on them can be cheaper to mass-produce. Although silicon cells are made by a complex process that involves refining silicon from quartz in a high-temperature furnace, perovskites can be made at low temperatures using low-energy, cheap and readily available materials. The company is working on some inexpensive ways to attach perovskites to a support surface, such as a piece of glass, turning the surface into a thin-film solar cell. These include inkjet printers, perovskite-based sprays, and roll-to-roll production methods used for newspaper printing.

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But despite their appeal, you still can’t buy perovskite solar cells to put on your roof. Because? Perovskites are also easy to make

“The material itself is fundamentally unstable,” said Lethian Dow, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.

Perovskite is water-soluble and it can’t handle heat—both of which are problems if you’re trying to make a device that will last decades on a rooftop. When a solar panel is heated by the sun, Du said, its temperature can rise to 160 degrees. At this temperature, the ions inside the perovskite move quickly, causing the molecular structure to break. Even at room temperature, some “ion migration” can occur, causing the material to become unstable.

However, new research shows that perovskites can be stabilized by changing the chemical recipe. Recently, Dow and his colleagues doped the perovskites with hard molecules called ligands, allowing the material to be stable at temperatures up to 212 degrees F. The study, published last month, was approved.

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, early — the experiments were conducted on a laboratory scale, and on a time scale of days, not decades — but it points to a “promising direction” for commercially ready perovskites, Dow said. in a study published in March

, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory made a perovskite using three halogen elements instead of the usual two, and found that the material degraded less than 4 percent after 1,000 hours of continuous operation under light conditions.

According to Berry, when the Department of Energy (DOE) began researching perovskites in solar applications in 2013, “lifetimes were measured in hours, maybe tens of hours.” At the same time, we made three changes. But the problem is to change one or two order sizes. “

Why Are Solar Panels Inefficient

The new US-MAP consortium aims to accelerate these efforts by enabling private companies, government researchers and academics to share new research ideas and resources and encouraging them to collaborate on more ambitious experiments. While the founding organizers all bring their own research funds to the table, the consortium plans to seek additional funding from federal agencies such as the DOE, as well as various state and local government programs and business partners.

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“The idea was we wanted to bring the group together,” Van De Lagemat said. “There’s a lot of research that can be done together that doesn’t affect each company’s specific sauce, but that will help advance the entire industry.”

Some of US-MAP’s commercial partners are figuring out how to get the first perovskite solar panels out into the wild. Swift Solar, a California startup founded in 2017, plans to combine two different layers of perovskite to create lightweight, highly efficient solar cells that will initially be marketed for mobile applications such as drones, satellites, and lighting and air conditioning systems. . on top of the truck. Kevin Bush, founder of Swift Solar, says cars are a good place for first-generation perovskite solar panels to shine because portability is high and they may not move the market “only needing five to 10 years of stability. only the state. it is easy to secure.’

“I think from a longevity perspective, it’s good to have a tougher market to start with,” Bush said, “so we can test the technology more.” “

Van De Lagemat does not believe that perovskites will replace silicon wholesale in the world of solar energy. But he believes they will “play a very large role in the energy market” because improvements in solar energy efficiency and improved manufacturing have caused solar prices to drop significantly in recent years. While this price drop is good for consumers, it also means there is less money to reinvest in new silicon solar plants, which are expensive to build. Technologies that require little capital investment, such as perovskite, may ultimately be needed to generate the amount of solar energy the world needs in the coming decades, he said.

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