Editorial Feature

Solar Innovation Spotlight: Cutting-Edge Developments in Photovoltaic Research

To fulfill its net zero emissions obligations, the world must rapidly phase out fossil fuels and embrace alternative renewable energy sources. Among the technologies developed over the past few decades, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are among the most widely implemented worldwide. By harvesting the limitless energy the sun provides, these panels offer a reliable route toward sustainability. This article will explore the latest developments in photovoltaic research.

photovoltaics, solar farm, man at solar farm

Image Credit: Kampan/Shutterstock.com

Solar Power and the Road to Net Zero

According to some estimates, fossil fuel demand is expected to peak by 2030 and phase out in favor of alternative green energy technologies. The rapid growth of renewables is partly driven by an awareness of the harmful effects of anthropogenic climate change and increasing cost competitiveness.

Renewables have become the lowest-cost option in numerous locales, with solar power emerging as the main contributor in all scenarios. By 2030, renewables are expected to provide between 45 and 50 percent of total power generation, which is predicted to grow to 65 and 85 percent by 2050.

The remarkable growth in solar power generation capacity has been driven by technological progress and investment. New technologies now far surpass the power generation capacity of first-generation PV solar panels.

Between 2010 and 2020, the cost of solar power technologies fell by approximately 15 % per year, while installed capacity increased by around 25 % per year. In terms of technological learning rate, there was approximately a 20 % doubling of installed capacity between 2010 and 2020.

Barriers in the Photovoltaic Industry

The photovoltaics sector faces several key barriers that must be overcome to reach its full potential. Seasonal variation means that current battery technologies are largely unsuitable for storage demands. This intermittency also impacts the cost-effectiveness of renewables.

Unequal finance availability across countries for phasing out fossil fuels is an additional potential barrier. Political resistance in specific locales could also curb some governments' willingness to invest in solar and other renewable energy technologies.

Latest Developments in Photovoltaic Solar Power Research

Despite the barriers the renewables sector faces, the percentage of solar power generation in the global energy mix continues to grow. This section will explore the latest advances in PV solar power generation research.

Next Generation Solar Power Cells Surpass Key Energy Threshold

Since their initial development in the 1950s, the efficiency of modern solar panels has steadily increased from 4 %. Today, second and third-generation solar panels are pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency and approaching global commercialization.

While many current PV solar panels are silicon-based and more efficient than previous generations, they are limited to a maximum conversion of sunlight to electricity of 29 %, with commercial solar cells only reaching 24.5 %.

Two groups of researchers with tandem silicon-perovskite solar cells have achieved a significant breakthrough. These next-generation PV solar cells have a reported efficiency of up to 32.5 %, surpassing the critical energy conversion figure of 30 %.

Overcoming this key technological barrier suggests that the era of widespread high-performance, low-cost PV solar power generation capabilities could be realized in the coming years.

Oxford PV: Pushing the Limits of Efficiency in Commercial-Size Solar Cells

While promising, solar PV cells that surpass 30 % efficiency remain small, limiting their commercial viability. To provide practical solutions to the energy crisis, they must be scaled up to the size of commercial solar PV cells.

Oxford PV has reported a commercial-size solar PV cell with a record 28.6 % efficiency, pushing the boundaries of solar power conversion in current commercial technologies. Another tandem cell, Oxford PV’s technological solution involves depositing a thin perovskite layer onto a conventional silicon heterojunction cell.

Using AI to Select New Bifunctional Pseudo-Halide Passivators

The discovery of new perovskite passivants can be laborious, costly, and time-consuming. However, a new study has demonstrated an innovative approach to accelerate the discovery of these key materials in solar power research: utilizing the power of machine learning.

The new materials uncovered using this process have been experimentally demonstrated to enhance perovskite solar cell performance, with a power conversion of 24.56 % and 96 % power conversion retention over 900 hours. These findings have been published online in the journal Nature Materials.

The Future of Solar Energy

The future large-scale commercialization of solar power demands high-performance, low-cost solar PV cells that retain their power conversion efficiency over extended periods. Significant investment, political will, and rapid scaling up of new technologies will be needed to achieve this.

While the benefits of solar power and its limitations are well-known, they pose key technical and economic challenges for scientists, companies, and governments. One key benefit of renewables is their contribution toward energy independence: recent wars and other geopolitical crises have underscored the urgent need for countries to achieve this.

Solar power is not the only renewable energy technology making significant inroads into markets; its major competitor is wind power. In 2022, wind power accounted for nearly 10 % of total energy generation in the US, surpassing solar at 2.5 %.

There is still a hill to climb for solar power to significantly increase its global market share and commercial viability beyond the domestic market. However, recent developments in cutting-edge photovoltaics research are leading the way for the sector. These advancements are rapidly advancing the efficiency and performance of solar technologies.

References and Further Reading

Carrington, D. (2023). ‘Revolutionary’ Solar Power Cell Innovations Break Key Energy Threshold. [Online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/06/revolutionary-solar-power-cell-innovations-break-key-energy-threshold.

Nijsse, FJMM., et al. (2023). The Momentum of the Solar Energy Transition. Nature Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-41971-7.

Oxford PV. (2023). Oxford PV Sets New Solar Cell World Record. [Online] Oxford PV. Available at: https://www.oxfordpv.com/news/oxford-pv-sets-new-solar-cell-world-record.

Xu, J., et al. (2023). Anion Optimization for Bifunctional Surface Passivation in Perovskite Solar Cells. Nature Materials. doi.org/10.1038/s41563-023-01705-y.

World Economic Forum. (2022) Solar vs Wind Power: The Ultimate Showdown. [Online] World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/solar-wind-power-renewable-energy-climate-change/.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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