[Image above] Credit: Stephanie Liverani

Commercialized solar energy use in the U.S. spiked 33% in 2014, thanks to soaring solar industry expansion. But the sun’s power needs to be captured and efficiently stored if it’s ever going to be our go-to energy source for clean energy.

And so the mission continues to develop more efficient solar panels that are more cost-effective to produce.

Last fall, we reported on research from the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (N.M.), where scientists are developing a new sunlight harvesting technology that can turn a nearly transparent window into an electrical generator using “quantum dot solar windows.”

In November, engineers at Michigan State University made news with a “clear” alternative to existing photovoltaic technology that can be retrofit to existing glass-covered buildings—and it’s scalable.

Most solar cells use silicon as the dominant material. But what if silicon had a partner-in-crime material that could significantly boost its solar cell efficiency factor?

Solar cells made from perovskites have been making news for their great potential for high efficiency and low cost—but more research needs to be done to scale up this technology for manufacturing use.

Check out this video from University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute about constructing perovskite solar cells. 

Credit: Clean Energy Institute, University of Washington; YouTube

Solar cells containing perovskites are now at almost 20 percent efficiency, although silicon solar cells required 10 times that many research years to reach a similar efficiency. (We’ve covered these trends and innovations in-depth at CTT.)

Recently, researchers at the University of Oxford in England say perovskites are the class of materials that will change the solar cell game not by themselves, but when partnered with our reliable standby material, silicon. 

The team—led by Henry Snaith, physicist at Oxford and leading perovskite researcher—says “it should be possible to make a silicon-perovskite ‘tandem’ device that is more than 25 percent efficient, higher than the performance of today’s commercially available silicon cells, which are about 17 to 20 percent efficient,” according to an MIT Technology Review article about the work.

Perovskite-based technologies are challenging to work with because of the material’s sensitivity to moisture and air, and subsequent durability necessary to survive the long lifetimes required of power systems, the article explains.

So Snaith and his colleagues came up with a method, which “relies on substituting certain ions in the material with cesium ions, to achieve the desired photovoltaic properties while maintaining the material’s structural stability,” according to the article.

And, according to the team, the process could be integrated into existing silicon panel manufacturing lines just by adding a few steps, improving the odds for effective scale-up potential.

In fact, Snaith and his team are so optimistic about this materials pair’s scale-up potential that Snaith’s company, Oxford PV, aims to deliver a commercial tandem perovkite-silicon product sometime in 2017. 

The team recently published their work in the journal Science. The report is called, “A mixed-cation lead mixed-halide perovskite absorber for tandem solar cells” (10.1126/science.aad5845).