Can Perovskite Solar Panels Ever Replace Silicon Solar Panels?

Recently, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy published an article detailing the potential for perovskite solar panels to one day overshadow silicone as the dominant technology in the solar industry and be an important step on the path to producing 25 terawatts.

25 terawatts is the amount of new power capacity researchers estimate the world will need to fuel the demand of the growing human population within the next 30 to 50 years. Silicon solar panels cannot be manufactured fast enough to meet that demand – but the smaller perovskite cells could hold that potential.

Perovskite cells are indeed full of promise. They are the fastest-advancing solar tech to date, experiencing the greatest advancement in power conversion efficiency in the shortest amount of time. However, there are challenges ahead as researchers like Professor Adélio Mendes work towards making perovskite solar cells more efficient.

In an interview with Scitech Europa, Professor Mendes explains that there are still knowledge gaps when it comes to the operation of perovskite solar panels. One of the greatest challenges, he says, is in scaling the technology to a commercial production level. To date, most of the research concerning perovskite has been with very small cells; upscaling has only begun recently.

Another challenge is with the materials that go into perovskite panel production. The most promising advances thus far have been in cell that contain lead. Although researchers have begun working on lead-free cells, these tests have significantly underperformed compared to those that contain lead. This could be a barrier to mass commercial production, since it creates barriers to disposing of the product safely.

“The lead which exists in the currently best-performing perovskite absorbers presents a challenge,” he explains. “Though very small, it is water soluble and then more dangerous. A great effort is now being undertaking for bringing the lead content below the 0.1% mass fraction allowed in the EU.”

Solar cells made from perovskite hold the potential to be an inexpensive, highly efficient alternative to silicone. However, the work researchers have accomplished so far in laboratories does not yet translate to manufacturing success.

Government institutions like the National Renewable Energy Lab are funding efforts to refine and improve the production process, but it may still be years before perovskite cells are prevalent in commercial use.