Get out your sunglasses, because the future of solar energy is looking brighter than ever! New materials are emerging in solar panel technology that will make them thinner, cheaper, and more efficient than today’s panels. Some of these new technologies still have hurdles to overcome, but once that those have been overcome, watch for these new technologies to transform solar power.
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Perovskite solar cells
Today’s silicon-based solar panels are efficient, but that efficiency comes at a premium. Solar panels made with perovskite materials have the potential to change that. They offer the promise of high efficiency and low cost. But perovskite cells have a problem, their performance degrades quickly.
A startup called Oxford PV claims to solve that problem by pairing perovskites with silicone. The company recently unveiled a solar panel with a 27.3% efficiency rating. The company says it plans to offer these cells soon. If they do, it could be a game-changer. These new third-generation solar cells would be more efficient and less costly than today’s solar cells.
Quantum dots: Nanoparticles that could have a huge impact
Quantum dots are tiny, they measure just a few trillionths of a meter across. But these tiny dots, smaller than the eye can see could change everything. Today’s solar cells have a maximum output efficiency of roughly 32% maximum. But quantum dots are semiconductors that can be tuned to match the solar light spectrum. That tuning could give quantum dots a theoretical efficiency limit of 70.4%. Quantum dots can even generate power from infrared energy waves, which would enable them to produce some power even at night!
Unfortunately, don’t expect quantum dot solar panels to show up on the market any time soon. Some reports suggest that they could be a decade or more away.
Nanotubes may supercharge perovskite cell performance
Nanotubes or nanocylinders are superficially similar to nanoparticles, but they are made from an insulating material rather than from a semiconducting material. They are able to selectively reflect certain wavelengths of light. This could enable a solar panel to concentrate useful light on the solar panel, increasing its efficiency.
A research group in Poland is currently working on a reflector based on nanotubes of titanium oxide to improve the performance of perovskite-silicone tandem cells. The light that bounces off the perovskite cells would be reflected back by the nanotube reflector, giving the solar cells a second chance to absorb the light.
Is it a good idea to wait for the supercells of the future?
The cutting edge technologies discussed in this article hold a lot of promise. But don’t look for these next-generation cells to replace conventional solar panels anytime soon. It isn’t clear which if any of these technologies will become commercially viable any time soon. You could be waiting a long time for these new technologies, but in the meantime, that utility bill keeps coming.