A new study led by the Australian National University (ANU) could lead to cheaper and more efficient solar technology. According to the study, the current photovoltaic (PV) cell market is dominated by silicon based technology, which is nearing its theoretical efficiency limit.
ANU engineers, in collaboration with researchers from the California Institute of Technology, have developed a way to combine silicon with another material, known as perovskite, to more efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. The materials are joined together to form a ‘tandem solar cell’ in such a way that the need for a conventional interlayer to allow electrical charge to be transferred easily between the two cells is avoided. This minimises energy waste and simplifies the structure, potentially making it cheaper and easier to produce.
The innovation is one of many contributions to continuing global success of the solar power industry. The JRC Science for Policy Report published in December 2018 notes that solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energy for the 8th year in a row, with new solar power plants adding almost 35% to the world-wide new power generating capacity in 2017. In the US, the CMU Power Sector Carbon Index, which tracks the environmental performance of US power producers, identified a double digit growth in solar power during 2018, significantly outperforming other energy sources.
This dominance of the solar power industry is borne out by patent filing statistics, with figures given by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicating that PV technology, and solar technology in general, continues to dominate over other renewable energy technologies in terms of numbers of patents filed globally.
And success for the solar power industry, as well as other renewables, is badly needed. The International Energy Agency, in its Energy Technology Perspectives 2017, suggests that full decarbonisation of the power sector by 2050 is needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. Moreover, solar energy systems can be deployed in a modular way almost everywhere in the planet, while solar resources are abundant and cannot be monopolised by one country. With oil prices heavily dependent on geopolitical factors, solar energy, alongside other renewables, offers stabilisation, and potentially a reduction in future energy prices.
The evidence suggests that technology aimed at reducing costs and improving efficiency of solar devices, as well as supporting the integration of these devices and transporting the electricity they produce, will be a key area for research and innovation in coming years, and one where we are likely to see a consequent increase in patent filings to exploit the commercial benefits of solar technology.
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