Halide perovskites could propel the transformation of solar energy production and consumption.

FREMONT, CA: The demand for cheaper, greener power means that the energy landscape is transforming faster than at any other point in history. This is especially true of solar-based electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unmatched rates over the past years, and energy-efficient technologies like LED lighting have also expanded. Access to cheap solar power and storage will change the way the world produces and uses power, enabling the transport sector's electrification. New chemical-based economies can store renewable energy as fuels and help new devices making up the internet of things.

But the current energy technologies won't lead the world to this future. It will soon hit efficiency and cost limits. The ability for future reductions in the cost of electricity from silicon solar, for instance, is limited. The manufacture of each panel requires a fair amount of energy, and factories are expensive to develop. And the cost of production can be accelerated a little further, the costs of solar deployments are now dominated by the extras – installation, wiring, electronics, and many others. This means that present solar power systems are unlikely to meet the needed fraction of the 30 TeraWatt (TW) global power requirements fast enough to address climate change issues.

Various companies are working with a promising new family of materials like halide perovskites. They are semiconductors, conducting charges when triggered with light. Perovskite inks are deposited onto glass or plastic to produce extremely thin films – around one-hundredth of the width of a human hair – created of metal, halide, and organic ions. When put between electrode contacts, these films make solar cell or LED devices. Despite their cheap processing, these materials are remarkably efficient as both solar cells and light emitters.

These technologies are quickly being commercialized, especially on the solar cell front. But the real opportunity is to create highly efficient cells beyond the efficiency of silicon cells. Although the first products are emerging, there are still challenges. But the research is futuristic and promising.