Editorial Feature

Photovoltaic Research Challenges: Overcoming Hurdles in Solar Technology

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has evolved in the past few years, particularly in solar panels and systems. However, researchers and institutions are actively working to overcome limitations to enhance the technology's efficiency and make it accessible to a broader range of consumers.

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Major Challenges in Photovoltaic Energy

Shifting toward solar energy has numerous benefits for people, and in recent years, an increasing trend in solar energy users has been observed. However, this revolutionary technology is still facing numerous challenges.

Researchers have published an article in Sustainability highlighting that strong companies and manufacturers in the photovoltaic energy domain hold technological and financial advantages. This makes it challenging for new companies to establish a photovoltaic cell and system manufacturing unit.

New firms entering the energy market with PV-based technologies may encounter various roadblocks, including financial challenges, such as high initial or production costs; structural obstacles like underdeveloped markets or unclear regulations; and firm-level difficulties, such as a lack of expertise, suitable business models, or reliable value chains. Overcoming these barriers is crucial for the successful entry and operation of PV-based technology firms in the energy sector.

Photovoltaic energy parks require a significant area for viable energy output. Even in a developed country like the United States, a study in Energies reveals that a relatively lower lifespan of photovoltaic panels is a big challenge. The average lifespan of most solar panels is 25 years. However, less than 11% of a panel is salvageable as metal, and there is limited research on end-of-life disposal.

Recycling photovoltaic panels can also lead to harmful emissions and solvent release during the recycling process. Additionally, while solar energy does not emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the manufacturing, mining, and industrial processes still produce some CO2.

During polycrystalline silicon (Si) production, 68% of the Si feedstock is lost as Si waste, a harmful byproduct affecting the environment. The low efficiency of photovoltaic cells remains a major limitation that must be addressed effectively.

An Overview of the Social Challenges Associated with Solar Energy

Diverse applications of solar PV technology predominantly have positive effects, although they raise some problems that need consideration, especially at the societal level. An approach that allows both the reduction of solar PV systems' production costs and the optimization of their environmental and social impact is needed.

PV systems are complex socio-technological systems that involve physical components and human elements. This includes individuals who design and implement the technologies, manage PV plants daily, and utilize the energy produced. Consequently, the societal changes and advancements in solar energy should be parallel to ensure society's confidence rises in this technology. Social factors should be considered and a critical part of the decision-making process, guaranteeing that advancements in PV technology fit into the existing social values and prospects aiming for a more sustainable transition toward renewable energy.

What are Some Key Advancements in the PV Technology?

The continuous research and manufacturing in the PV industry has allowed the development of better cells and PV modules that significantly enhance efficiency and power output.

Crystalline silicon-based photovoltaic cells

A study published in Solar Compass found that crystalline silicon-based PV technologies have experienced great efficiency enhancements and are now the most favored alternatives for use in diverse applications.

Halide perovskites

The hallmark halide perovskites are semiconductors designed primarily for novel PV systems. However, their stability has been an issue for photovoltaic companies. They are a group of materials that exhibit promising attributes for solar energy applications, including high performance and low production costs. These cells have shown superior power conversion efficiencies (PCE) than their traditional counterparts. However, their stability remains challenging compared to established photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

Despite many hurdles, new studies have shown that novel lead-based perovskite photovoltaic cells are highly stable and can provide energy even under very high temperatures. This development will be helpful in industrial applications of halide perovskite cells.

Heterojunction solar cells

A group of researchers working for LONGi Green Energy Technology announced the fabrication of an advanced solar cell with much higher efficiency than traditionally used PV panels. It converted sunlight into usable electrical energy with an efficiency of around 27%.  

The researchers used a nano-crystallization process to develop highly efficient advanced heterojunction solar cells (HSCs). By combining the novel technique with specifically customized transparent conductive oxide (TCO) materials, enhanced power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) and fill factors (FFs) in wafer-scale single-junction silicon heterojunction (SHJ) solar cells were obtained.

Tandem photovoltaic cells – a new era in photovoltaic technology

A team of scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) fabricated tandem photovoltaic cells that demonstrated very high operational efficiency during experimentation. The tandem solar cell achieved a certified PCE of 33.7%, marking a new era in advanced photovoltaic cell technology.

Thin film solar panels

Companies are experimenting with different manufacturing techniques to reduce the size of PV panels, and thin-film solar panels are a great choice.

Instead of using traditional silicon crystals, this technology uses a nano-sized semiconductor layer. The fabrication method of these new types of panels is costly. However, they are very flexible and much lighter than conventional solar panels. This flexibility enables them to be installed in areas where crystalline panels cannot, such as curved surfaces. However, it has been noted that the installation costs of these panels are much less than those of silicon panels.

Implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Improve Photovoltaic Cells

AI leads to useful enhancements in solar power, including increased performance, efficiency, and productivity, as shown by researchers in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Arts.

AI systems can work with enormous volumes of data, comprising past climate patterns, geographical information, and the intensity level of sun rays, to produce exact solar energy resource assessments. Gathering those data points by AI can be a basis for identifying the best locations for the installation of photovoltaic systems and for producing the highest possible energy.

AI is also a revolutionary technology that can predict maintenance requirements and locate possible problems hidden in solar systems before they lead to severe damage. Analyzing the patterns and correlations in data enables a proactive maintenance strategy that minimizes downtime, reduces repair costs, and extends the life of solar panels.

Moreover, AI plays a role in informed decision-making, stabilizing the grid, and reducing variability by increasing the integration of renewable energy sources. Therefore, AI is a key tool to help speed up grid-scale adoption of solar resources.

The Future of Solar Technology

Researchers and industrial manufacturers have realized the importance of solar energy, and billions of dollars have been invested to improve the efficiency of PV cells and optimize the performance of photovoltaic systems.

Technologically advanced equipment, such as perovskite cells and space reflectors for photovoltaic systems, are being deployed. Consequently, the prospects for promoting sustainable energy production practices appear relatively bright, and solar energy should play a vital role in this process.

References and Further Reading

Adetuniji, J., (2023). Solar panel technology is set to be turbo-charged – but first, a few big roadblocks have to be cleared. [Online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/solar-panel-technology-is-set-to-be-turbo-charged-but-first-a-few-big-roadblocks-have-to-be-cleared-210723 [Accessed 24 March 2024].

Bouich, A. et. al. (2023). Opportunities, Challenges, and Future Prospects of the Solar Cell Market. Sustainability. 15(21). 15445. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/su152115445

Bellini, E., (2023). KAUST claims 33.7% efficiency for perovskite/silicon tandem solar cell. [Online] Available at: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2023/05/30/kaust-claims-33-7-efficiency-for-perovskite-silicon-tandem-solar-cell/ [Accessed 24 March 2024].

LONGi Green Energy, (2023). A breakthrough that makes solar panels better than ever. [Online] Available at: https://www.longi.com/en/industry-dynamics/breakthrough-for-solar-panels/ [Accessed 23 March 2024].

Tabassum, S. et. al. (2021). Solar Energy in the United States: Development, Challenges and Future Prospects. Energies. 14(23). 8142. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/en14238142

Schmela, M. et. al. (2023). Advancements in solar technology, markets, and investments–A summary of the 2022 ISA World Solar Reports. Solar Compass6, 100045. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.solcom.2023.100045

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, (2023). Perovskite Solar Cells. [Online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/perovskite-solar-cells [Accessed 23 March 2024].

Perch Energy, (2024). Solar Panel Technology Advances: From Perovskites to Thin-Film. [Online] Available at: https://www.perchenergy.com/blog/innovation/solar-panel-technology-advancements-perovskites-thin-film [Accessed 25 March 2024].

Mohammad, A. et. al. (2023). Revolutionizing solar energy: The impact of artificial intelligence on photovoltaic systems. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Sciences and Arts2(1). Available at: https://www.doi.org/10.47709/ijmdsa.v2i1.2599

Lin, H. et al. (2023). Silicon heterojunction solar cells with up to 26.81% efficiency achieved by electrically optimized nanocrystalline-silicon hole contact layers. Nat Energy 8, 789-799. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-023-01255-2

PV Magazine, (2024). Addressing socio-economic challenges will advance solar. [Online] Available at: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2024/02/16/addressing-socio-economic-challenges-will-advance-solar/ [Accessed 25 March 2024].

Science Daily, (2024). Reimagining the future of solar energy. [Online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/03/240318142216.htm [Accessed 25 March 2024].

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.

Ibtisam Abbasi

Written by

Ibtisam Abbasi

Ibtisam graduated from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. During his academic career, he has worked on several research projects and has successfully managed several co-curricular events such as the International World Space Week and the International Conference on Aerospace Engineering. Having won an English prose competition during his undergraduate degree, Ibtisam has always been keenly interested in research, writing, and editing. Soon after his graduation, he joined AzoNetwork as a freelancer to sharpen his skills. Ibtisam loves to travel, especially visiting the countryside. He has always been a sports fan and loves to watch tennis, soccer, and cricket. Born in Pakistan, Ibtisam one day hopes to travel all over the world.

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