Recently, a renewable energy technology developer in the U.K. made a remarkable announcement. Oxford PV claims its researchers have engineered perovskite solar cells that exceed the efficiency record for this technology just a year ago, reaching an energy conversion efficiency of 27.3%.
The company is aiming to have the cells on the market by the year 2020.
But that’s not all: Oxford PV also says it hopes to breach the 30% efficiency mark soon using combined silicon-perovskite solar cells that work in tandem. That would be an incredible feat, given that this technology only reached 3.8% efficiency just ten years ago.
Some experts are calling perovskite the most promising advancement in solar cell technology to date — one that could, with the help of thin film lithium-ion battery technology, transform the market for renewable energy.
So, what’s behind the hype?
What Are Perovskite Solar Cells?
Perovskite is a naturally-occurring calcium titanium oxide material with an amazing ability to absorb light. Synthetic versions of the mineral have incredible photovoltaic capabilities.
Until recently, perovskite was relatively unknown within the renewable energy conversation. Many people first became aware of it through a TED Talk that shone a light on it in 2016.
In addition to its excellent light absorption, perovskite is remarkable in that it can be manufactured from polycrystalline materials through solution processing: a method that is comparatively low-cost next to other methods of producing photovoltaic solar cells. Affordability has long held back the solar technology industry, and perovskite has the potential to turn the tide on that part of the issue.
The Promise of Perovskite and Thin Film Lithium-Ion Batteries
With its efficiency and affordability, perovskite solar cells have the potential to become a scalable renewable technology — if researchers can overcome its weaknesses.
One such disadvantage is shared by all photovoltaic solar power: unpredictability. Without the ability to control the climate, our capability of generating solar energy is limited by the whims of the local weather conditions.
Thin film lithium-ion battery technology is increasingly seen as a solution to this solar problem, since it makes it possible to store surplus energy on favourable days for use on days where the weather is uncooperative. The fact that this tech has advanced rapidly in tandem with perovskites is highly promising.
The second challenge to perovskite solar cells is stability and longevity. In general, perovskite is susceptible to degrade when subject to high humidity and UV rays; it must be engineered with other materials to increase its ability to withstand those conditions.
Much of Oxford PV’s current research involves enhancing the long-term stability of perovskite solar technology. Currently, the developer’s tech can withstand temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius, which is a vast improvement over earlier design.