Perovskite technology could slash solar energy payback time

6 Aug 2015

Perovskite minerals embedded in rock image via Wikimedia Commons

It could be serious payback time for solar energy following the publication of a study which claims that by replacing silicon panels with perovskite ones, solar panels could get an awful lot cheaper.

The concept of solar energy payback time refers to the amount of time needed for a solar panel to ‘pay back’ what it cost to produce, much like the way a double-glazed window will only begin paying back its cost in insulation over a number of years.

According to Ecologist, the current crystalline silicon solar panels that are the most common across the world could take as little as 30 months or as long as four years to pay back the energy put into it.

However, going by a new study undertaken by the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, solar panels made from the material perovskite could have ‘an energy payback time’ (EPBT) of between just two-to-three months.

Perovskite is a naturally-occurring material comprised of calcium titanium oxide, which has been shown to have a number of applications in science, particularly when it comes to superconductivity, and its flexibility of material makes it ideal for photovoltaic panels.

Solar energy payback time solar panels

Solar panels image via gordontour/Flickr

Need a more rigorous approach

This is despite the fact that, on paper, silicon offers a greater level of conversion efficiency than perovskite but, the researchers argue, the fact it requires less energy to produce more than makes up for it.

“Soon, we’re going to need to produce an extremely high number of solar panels”, said corresponding author of the research paper Fengqi You. “We don’t have time for trial-and-error in finding the ideal design. We need a more rigorous approach, a method that systematically considers all variables.”

Concerns have been raised by other researchers of You’s methods, which used lead and gold in the project, which are toxic to humans and harmful to the environment, respectively.

“People in the research community have expressed concern because everyone knows lead can be toxic”, said Seth Darling, co-author on the paper. “However, the team’s assessment showed that gold was much more problematic.”

They will now begin looking for alternative minerals to bring a feasible perovskite solar panel to market within the next two years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic