Two solar tech combined to improve efficiency and stability

Researchers combined two solar technologies to overcome the weaknesses of perovskites and it worked well.
Ameya Paleja
Solar panels on sunset
Solar panels on sunset

JONGHO SHIN/iStock 

Researchers at Princeton University in the US and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have successfully combined two types of solar technologies to deliver improved stability and energy conversion efficiencies, a press release said.

Panels made using silicon have been the mainstay of switching to solar-based power for many years. Even after years of research, scientists have not been able to improve the energy conversion efficiency of these panels, which has become an obstacle to their adoption.

In recent years, the material perovskite has made some headlines since it successfully broke the 30 percent energy conversion barrier seen with conventional solar cells. However, perovskite-based technology is still limited to the laboratory.

Challenges with perovskites

Perovskite-based solar cells are yet to demonstrate their potential in the field due to challenges in manufacturing and deploying them. Interesting Engineering has previously reported how researchers have been working on easing the production process of perovskite-based solar cells.

Two solar tech combined to improve efficiency and stability
Engineers checking the solar panel

These solar cells are also susceptible to damage through sudden voltage-induced changes. Even a shadow cast by an overhanging tree branch can lead to a sudden drop in voltage in energy production, which can ruin an entire module of cells. Even though the production of perovskite-based solar cells is relatively cheaper, their weakness makes them unviable for energy production at a solar farm.

Linking two technologies

The collaboration between researchers at Princeton University and KAUST hypothesized that tandem solar cells, which have shown improved energy conversion efficiencies compared to conventional silicon or perovskite solar cells alone, could help bridge the two technologies.

To test their hypothesis, the team built three solar cell strings. One contained only silicon solar cells, and one contained only perovskites. At the same time, the third consisted of tandem solar cells, made using a combination of silicon and perovskite cells, connected in series with the two technologies.

The researchers then shaded one of the cells in the string to simulate conditions of partial shading, which panels are likely to face during their long lifespans. Typically, perovskite cells fail here since the illuminated cells continue to generate electric charge and force it through the cell that isn't active due to the shade.

As expected, the researchers noticed a deterioration in the perovskite solar modules, while silicon ones were hardly impacted. The tandem cells showed surprising results since they were as resilient as the silicon-only modules, demonstrating a new approach to overcoming the frailty of perovskite cells.

"When you combine two different materials to form a final product, usually it’s the weakest link that determines the overall strength of the chain,” said Stefaan De Wolf, professor of material science and engineering at KAUST. “But in this case, it’s actually the stronger component that protected the weaker one.”

The research shows that partial shading - a major concern for perovskite-only solar cells is not a concern for tandem ones, even when connected in series. This also paves the way for commercial scale-up of the technology alongside silicon solar cells, whose production ecosystem already exists.

The research findings were published today in the journal Joule.

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