Scientists find cheap, game-changing way to ‘supersize’ solar cells

2 Oct 2018

An A4-sized perovskite sheet of solar cells. Image: Specific/Swansea University

A team of scientists from Swansea University has found a way to ‘supersize’ solar cells to make them six times larger than existing ones.

While the cost of solar power generation is declining rapidly, solar has yet to become the dominant source of electricity for the world. This isn’t to say that efforts are not being made to do so, with China attempting to reverse its image as a major polluter to become the world’s largest solar producer.

Things could be about to change in a big way following news from Swansea University in the UK that a team of researchers has produced a solar module the size of an A4 sheet of paper. While this might not sound impressive, this is six times bigger than existing modules and it was made using simple, low-cost printing techniques.

Publishing its findings to the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, the team said that the breakthrough could be what the industry needs to produce solar power on a grand scale.

Unlike more common silicon-based solar cells, this design uses perovskite, a material than can be produced cheaper and easier than silicon. It is also more solar-efficient, with conversion rates as high as 22pc.

‘This is vital’

In this instance, the team used an existing type of cell called carbon perovskite solar cell (C-PSC). While lower in efficiency than other perovskite cells, it does not degrade as quickly and can work for more than one year without any problems.

To print it in even greater quantities, the researchers optimised the printing process on glass substrates as large as an A4 sheet of paper, ensuring the patterned layers were perfectly aligned through a method called registration, well known in the printing industry.

Initial returns showed a power conversion efficiency of 6.3pc in average sunlight and 18pc at light levels equivalent to those found in a supermarket. This latter result shows the breakthrough could allow for generating energy to power small devices indoors, too.

Dr Francesca De Rossi of the team said: “Our work shows that perovskite solar cells can deliver good performance even when produced on a larger scale than reported so far within the scientific community. This is vital in making it economical and appealing for industry to manufacture them.”

The next step for the team is to increase the active area of the cells used to produce power, thereby increasing output.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic