With the development of low-cost, high-performance semiconducting materials, space-saving thin films, and seamlessly deployable technologies, the solar power market is expected to boom.

FREMONT, CA: Solar energy, the third-largest renewable power source after hydropower and wind, has evolved as a clean and potential alternative to fossil fuels. The sunlight coming to the earth is more than 10,000 times the globe’s total energy use, and technologies to harvest solar energy are surging quickly. Since the first commercial silicon solar panels were produced, the most common technologies today leverage various forms of Si-powered solar cells and convert up to 20 percent of the sunlight to electricity. Here are some current and upcoming innovative materials.

Crystalline Silicon

Crystalline silicon is the most utilized semiconducting material in solar panels, occupying more than 90 percent of the PV market, although the efficiency is under the theoretical limit. Solar cells made of alternative low-cost and high-efficiency materials are evolving. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory drives the development of high-efficiency crystalline PVs, which comprises III-V multijunction materials and hybrid tandem III-V/Si solar cells. Moreover, Si-powered bifacial technology can use solar power from both sides of the panel.

Thin Films

Thin-film solar cells appear as one of the promising PV technologies due to their narrow design, lightweight, flexibility, and ease of deployment. Usually, four types of materials are utilized in their construction: cadmium-telluride, copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS), amorphous silicon, and gallium-arsenide (GaAs). The CIGS solar cells are the more promising high-efficiency and economic choices for residential and commercial deployments, with an efficiency of up to 21 percent.

Perovskite Solar Cells

Among the current solar cells, hybrid metal halide perovskite solar cells (PSCs) have garnered a great amount of attention due to their mitigated price, thinner design, low-temperature processing, and excellent light absorption properties. PSCs can be flexible, lightweight, and semitransparent.  Notably, perovskite thin films can be printed, resulting in scalable high-throughput manufacturing, and a recent roll-to-roll printed PSC has reached 12.2 percent efficiency, the highest among printed PSCs. Notably, combined perovskite and Si-PV materials have shown an efficiency of up to 28 percent under laboratory conditions.

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