Perovskite: The Future of the Solar Industry
The ability to generate solar power from a diverse range of surfaces is a possibility in the near future, thanks to a material known as perovskite. According to many scientists, the power of liquid solar cells has the potential to revolutionize the $55 billion solar energy industry.
“Solar cells are no longer limited to rigid structures such as panels,” said Dr. Anita Ho-Baillie, manager with the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW’s Perovskite Solar Cell Research program. “Imagine being able to cover every surface of buildings, devices, and cars with solar cells.”
Named as one of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 emerging technologies of 2016, perovskite is a unique material that can be used to harvest light. When mixed with liquid solutions, perovskite can be applied to a wide range of surfaces, allowing scientists greater freedom to explore new ways to incorporate the production of solar energy.
“The diversity of chemical compositions also allows cells to be transparent, or made of different colors,” said Ho-Baillie. “The versatility of solution deposition of perovskite makes it possible to spray-coat, print, or paint on solar cells.”
Not only does this mean we may start to see futuristic technology like solar cells that can be painted on the walls of our homes, or light-harnessing finishes applied to electric cars, but these products may even become less cost-prohibitive. Traditional solar panels are made with silicon, but according to Ho-Baillie, perovskite materials are much easier to produce.
“The fabrication process consumes a small amount of materials and doesn’t require high temperatures,” Ho-Baillie said. “From these new innovations, it opens up new opportunities and applications.”
This technology isn’t entirely new, however. Japanese researchers first discovered perovskite’s potential as a solar cell in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2012, after advancements were made to the material’s efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity, that it started attracting the attention of the scientific community.
Ho-Baillie’s research team is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) solar excellence initiative, which has provided the team with $3.6 million in funding. So far, the team has managed to achieve a conversion efficiency rating of 18 per cent on a single perovskite cell. Since most commercial solar panels boast rates in the low 20 per cent range, this breakthrough means that perovskite cells can be nearly comparable to standard silicon panels.
The project goal is to achieve a reliable efficiency of 26 per cent, but work still needs to be done to ensure the material’s long-term durability. Currently, Ho-Baillie said perovskite cells only last for a few months without protection from the elements, as they are highly susceptible to damage caused by fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels. However, she is confident that this revolutionary material could be a game-changer for the renewables industry.
“Perovskites came out of nowhere with an efficiency rating of 3.8 per cent, and have since grown in leaps and bounds,” Ho-Baillie said. “I think we can get to 24 per cent within a year or so.”