What About New Super-Efficient Solar Cells?
Every so often, we hear about advances in solar cell efficiency that get people talking. There are advances in silicon, organic materials, perovskites, various exotic chemistries, and even quantum physics. These offer some exciting possibilities for the future, and some of these may end up allowing us to harvest more power from the sun in a smaller area. Smaller solar cells that produce more power means that solar can be helpful in more places.
Smaller and cheaper solar arrays are just more attractive. Right now, the cost of solar is rivaling that of conventional sources. No new coal plants are being built in the US, despite growing demand for electricity. Utilities are adding megawatts of solar energy every year. There are more workers in the solar energy industry in the US than there are people working in oil and gas extraction.
Like any industry, this can only be helped by less expensive equipment.
More efficient solar energy equipment means that more of a building’s electricity use can be covered by solar. Smaller arrays producing more power mean that smaller homes & buildings can benefit. There can be other uses like camping, remote living, transportation, and road signs, among many others.
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All of these advances that we hear about are all done in a lab somewhere, often in a university setting. Universities are noteworthy for overlooking the practical considerations of the science that they’re doing — and that’s OK for research and learning. But there’s a giant step between research and a practical product. It often involves many years of testing and trials and failures and successes. The product that is produced using the university science has to comply with thousands of regulations on its way from raw materials to finished product, and may look little like the original research.
Historically, things take many years to go from lab to product, and most don’t make it at all. The reasons that many solar advancements don’t make it into a product can be:
- It doesn’t work in the hot and cold temperatures that it would be exposed to outside, from Alaskan winters (yes, there IS solar in Alaska) to Arizona deserts.
- It degrades or goes bad after just a few years, just by itself.
- It degrades or goes bad after just a few years of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
- They are difficult (read: expensive) to incorporate into easy-to-use modules.
- They are built from expensive, hard-to-get, or hard-to-find materials.
- The product requires hazardous or toxic materials that add to manufacturing costs.
- The hazardous materials add cost to salvage or recycling, which must be figured in from the start.
What We Have Today
Today’s solar modules are made from silicon, which is one of the most abundant, cheap, and safe materials known to man. If you didn’t know, it comes from sand. Common, everyday sand; highly processed, yes, but easy to find and easy to use.
The silicon cells are processed using various toxic gases, yes, but the handling of these materials is well-known and well-controlled, and the finished product is not toxic.
Every year, silicon cells get more efficient. Year-by-year, the technology that we have today gets better. Often, by the time a technology advance gets out of the lab and into a product, this steady advance of current technology ends up better than the lab technology.
Why Wait for The Lab?
Most of the advances currently in the lab will never show up. Some will, and those will be great! But all those years of waiting for the next big thing means that you will have missed out on years of benefit that you could have had. Think of the years that you may have already missed out on saving money. You don’t have to miss out any more – so take charge of your future – just contact us here and Nemeth Energy Solutions can help you start saving today.