In Part 1 of this blog, we’ll take a look at the need for innovations in the field of solar energy and learn more about Thin-film Solar Panels, Transparent Solar Panels, and Perovskite Cells.

The need for innovations in solar energy

Current estimates indicate that solar energy accounts for only 1% of the world’s total power consumption. However, the use of solar energy is expected to rise to 27% in the next 30 years. In the coming future, solar farms and concentrated solar power (CSP) plants are expected to generate more energy than fossil fuels, wind, or hydroelectric systems, reducing carbon emissions by 6 billion tonnes per year.

Our dependence on fossil fuels is depleting natural resources and raising pollution at an alarming rate. Thankfully renewable energy sources emit low to no greenhouse gasses and pollutants. The urgent need to find cheaper and more efficient sources of solar energy is
driving a host of innovations.

Solar panels today have an efficiency of about 23% even under the most ideal conditions and scientists are constantly looking for ways to make them more efficient. The future will see two classes of solar energy take primacy: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. Since energy supply facilities can last decades, this technology will continue to dominate solar power generation till 2050.

Growing research and development is sparking novel solutions in solar power generation, from Transparent and Thin-film Solar Panels to Mirrors and Solar Thermal Fuels. These technologies transform the way we capture solar energy opening up new ways to integrate them into our homes, businesses, and power systems. Here’s a look at the bright and promising future of solar power generation.

Thin Film Solar Panels

In a world where products evolve to become slimmer, lighter, and more versatile, the solar energy industry is also following suit with Thin Film Solar Panels.

Thin Film Solar Panels are made of thin films of semiconductors deposited on glass, plastic, or metal. Often 20 times slimmer than crystalline silicon wafers, they are incredibly flexible and lightweight. When the thin film cells are encased in plastic, the product could be flexible
enough to be moulded into a roof’s shape.

There are several types of thin-film solar panels including:

Amorphous Solar Panels – The oldest thin film technology, one layer of an Amorphous Solar Panel can be thinner than a human hair. They are cheaper to manufacture but lower in efficiency compared to traditional solar panels.

Cadmium Telluride Solar Panels (CdTe) – The most common thin film solar technology. One of the top benefits of CdTe panels is their ability to absorb sunlight close to an ideal wavelength or shorter wavelengths than traditional silicon solar cells. They cost significantly less to manufacture and install, but they still don’t meet the average efficiencies of standard
silicon panels.

Copper Gallium Indium Diselenide (CIGS) Solar Panels – CIGS thin film solar cells have reached 21.7% efficiency in laboratory settings and 18.7% efficiency in the field, making
CIGS a leading choice among thin film technologies. However, high production costs don’t make them a popular choice.

Organic Solar Cells or Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) Cells – In an organic solar cell or OPV, multiple layers of thin organic vapour or solution are deposited and held between two electrodes to transmit an electrical current. Because different types of absorbers can be used in an organic cell, OPV devices come in a variety of colours. This aesthetic advantage makes them a popular option for Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) applications like solar windows. Additionally, the materials needed to make OPV cells are abundant, leading to low manufacturing costs.

Transparent Solar Panels

Thanks to Transparent Solar Panels we could soon see solar powered windows, cars’ sunroofs and the glass roofs of our office buildings generate electricity.

Although there are several types of transparent solar cells being researched and developed, photovoltaic glass is among the most cutting-edge entrant in this space. In 2014, Michigan State University researchers created the first fully transparent solar concentrator and researchers in the US and Europe have now caught up too.

Transparent solar cells depend on Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrators (TLSC). TLSC absorbs natural light and power, which is then converted into electricity. According to researchers, these solar panels have the potential scale for deployment. In agriculture, Transparent Solar Panels have replaced plastic polytunnels. They allow delicate plants to create better produce by controlling the amount of light entering the panels.

Perovskite Solar Cells

Next on our list are Perovskite Solar Cells. All photovoltaic solar cells rely on semiconductor materials to turn solar energy from light into electricity. Silicon, the mainstream solar semiconductor material used today is reaching its practical efficiency limit when used alone and requires an expensive, multi-step manufacturing process that utilizes a lot of energy.

With better efficiencies and cheaper manufacturing, Perovskite is observed to steadily take over as a more efficient light-absorbing material. Perovskite Solar Cells can be manufactured by implementing simple, additive deposition techniques, like printing, for a fraction of the cost and energy. Not just that, but because of the compositional flexibility of Perovskites, they can also be tuned to ideally match the sun’s spectrum.

However, Perovskite has not yet been perfected to replace silicon panels due to their lack of durability and the presence of toxic elements (lead). Researchers are working on new cell designs, new encapsulation strategies to protect Perovskites from the environment, and studying basic degradation pathways so they can use accelerated aging studies to estimate how Perovskite Solar Cells will last on rooftops.

Curious to know what other technologies are likely to brighten the world of solar energy? Then look out for Part 2 of our blog, The Future of Solar Energy, where we will take a closer look at Mirrors, Solar Fabrics, and Solar Thermal Fuels.