The Color Of Photovoltaic Cells Could Make Solar Energy Cheaper

Black solar cells. Image: ESB Basic Shutterstock

Can the colors of the panels make solar energy cheaper? A recent discovery indicated that changing the color of silicon in solar cells can reduce production costs in solar cells by more than 10%, thanks to the work of engineers at Michigan Technological University and Aalto University.

Silicon is the most commonly used material in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells. There are two types of solar cells, multi-crystalline (they cost less, but offer lower efficiencies) and mono-crystalline, the latter of perfect crystals that cost more and produce higher efficiencies. In both, a common etching is made to reduce reflected light, which is what gives solar panels their blue color.

However, some researchers already knew that dry-etched nano-textured silicon makes such black silicon more efficient at capturing light than standard etching. One of the researchers claims that it has no color because the dry etching process takes a flat silicon surface and ” etches it in a forest of nano-scale needles, these needles catch the light and don’t let it escape, ” he says .

You might think that the cost of these black Silicon cells for both dry etching and ALD are too expensive for commercial use, since according to Pearce ‘ the margins are extremely tight, and everyone is trying to cut costs. as much as possible . ‘

However, the results of his study have surprised even Pearce. While the researchers found that the black cells cost between 15.8 and 25.1% more to produce than conventional cells, they also found that their efficiency and the ability to use less expensive multi-crystalline silicon far outweighed the additional costs. reducing it by 10.8%.

Types of solar panels. Image: Leandro PP Shutterstock

What would be the future of renewable energy and solar energy production through materials science?

This study points to where the future will go in PV manufacturing and what countries could do to gain a competitive advantage.

Black is not only better than blue when it comes to solar panels, such improvements could start to outpace its main competitors in power generation.

While the production process can still be optimized to extract some more efficiency from the process, the next step is for policy makers to use the process to speed up PV manufacturing. A clear example is China, which already dominates photovoltaic manufacturing globally, making a change like this is trivial.

Whatever the technology that dominates the solar field, this study shows us a clear economic boost, showing us that solar energy will only evolve.

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