A real next generation of solar cell technology is just around the corner. It's time to start thinking about the benefits.
July 1, 2021
In its most recent quarterly earnings report, MeyerBurger stated that its perovskite-silicon tandem solar module with an efficiency of over 27% would potentially hit the market in 2023.
At the end of June, JinkoSolar stated in its quarterly results report that it is expected to successfully test a laminated perovskite solar cell with an efficiency of over 30% by the end of the year. The company also said it has completed construction of a “high-efficiency laminated perovskite cell technology platform”.
Also at the end of June, 1366 Technologies merged with Hunt Perovskite Technologies with the aim of offering a perovskite-silicon tandem solar cell with an efficiency 30% higher than that of the best solar cells on the market.
As a reminder, the CEO of 1366 told pv magazine USA just six months ago:
In fact, I not only believe that several gigawatts of Tandem will be sold by the end of 2022, but I am also confident that Tandem will achieve more than 50% of our industry's market share in ten years' time.
However, the more spirited members of our industry remind us that historically it takes decades to bring solar panel technology from the laboratory to the market.
One expert wondered what JinkoSolar's “technology platform” really is and whether it is appropriate for investors to seriously consider it. And another industry observer assumes that the forecast by 1366 Technologies that several gigawatts of production capacity for tandem cells will be available before the end of next year will be exposed.
This author won't let any of this rationality dampen our excitement.
Efficiency brings the price of everything down
The biggest advantage of the increased efficiency of solar panels is that everything is cheaper per watt and per kilowatt hour.
In the picture above, created by LONGi Solar, there is a comparison between a 380 watt solar panel and a 425 watt device. The units are the same size, but the 425 watt model has 11.8% more watts due to efficiency improvements. A 380 watt model found online – LR6-72HPH-380M – had an efficiency of 19%.
Note that in the Rate of Change column, the hardware and land savings are 7% when a 1 GW geothermal power plant is converted from a 380 watt to a 425 watt unit.
Now imagine that we have a solar module with 30% efficiency: That is an increase in electricity production of 57% compared to the 380 watt unit. For simplicity, we'll pretend the benefits scale linearly with the LONGi comparison above. This means that the 7% system savings become almost 35% savings.
These construction cost savings generally scale with the electricity cost savings. Solar is already proclaimed the king of cheap energy generation. If we cut another 35% in construction costs, solely by improving the efficiency of the solar panels, that's pretty sweet icing on the cake.
Three other benefits result from breakthroughs in the efficiency of solar modules. First, local land savings lead to a reduction in local pushback. Second, a lower carbon footprint results from less equipment, transportation and labor. And of course a massive increase in efficiency would revitalize the spirit of the entire solar industry – and that for a third advantage.
The first two advantages are obvious. For example, pv magazine USA reported on the battle to build the largest solar power plant east of the Rocky Mountains in 2019.
This battle made it clear that while solar power is as popular as apple pie, its popularity has still declined, in part due to setbacks in agriculture and rural areas. It also expressed concern about the environmental aspects of producing large quantities of polysilicon and then recycling these solar modules.
If land use is reduced by a third and electricity for production is also reduced by a third, it is logical to assume that the pushback will also decrease somewhat.
Do solar scientists dream of efficiency records?
This image comes from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) Best Research-Cell Efficiency Chart. A lot of readers don't know this chart because it applies directly to their lives, but because it's just so damn cool to see the rapid advances solar technology has made over the past few years.
Records are cool, lasers that beam energy onto specialized solar cells are cool, and even carbon nanotube solar tube dreams are cool (even if we never figure out how to make them) because that's how life and innovation work.
If – or more likely if – the world's solar manufacturers solve the manufacturing challenges behind tandem perovskite silicon solar cells, it will pave a clear path to 34-35% efficient solar cells (Product).
In expensive markets – for example the International Space Station – multi-layer solar cell products are already common, but they are still too expensive for practical surface-based power generation.
We will finally see highly efficient multijunction products for the common man.
Rolled up solar panels on the SpaceX Dragon.
Of course, multi-layer products are currently available for purchase. Panasonic's HIT goes way back, and REC's Alpha product was released less than two years ago. But these products have not yet fulfilled the promises of our efficiency dreams.
These efficiency dreams are undoubtedly deep in the minds of the researchers at Fraunhofer and NREL, as we can see from the aforementioned 68.9% solar cell, which absorbs laser explosions, or the 47.1% six-layer solar cell, which is manufactured with surprisingly achievable technologies becomes .
As our planet is experiencing record heat waves due to carbon emissions killing our most vulnerable, it's nice to have something to dream about.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own views and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of. contrary PV magazine.
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