We were just noticing a report that demand for diesel is collapsing in Europe when along comes a company called Oxford PV with some news that could give that knife an extra twist. The company has been developing a cutting edge, building integrated solar cell, but its base technology is also promising for boosting solar cell efficiency in standard silicon solar cells. So promising, in fact, that Oxford PV has just announced that it is switching gears and pushing forward with its “turbo boost” silicon solar cell efficiency solution.
A Turbo Boost For Solar Cell Efficiency
The secret sauce behind the Oxford PV technology is perovskite, and if that doesn’t ring any bells yet it’s fairly new to us, too.
Perovskite refers to a mineral with a distinctive crystalline structure that causes great excitement among solar researchers for its potential to boost solar cell efficiency.
However, there has been one giant stumbling block to commercial development. Conventional perovskite solar cells use lead, so the search has been on for a nontoxic substitute.
CleanTechnica’s first perovskitespotting goes back to 2013, when we noticed that Oxford PV (a spinoff from research at Oxford University) was working on a thin film, translucent solar cell efficiency solution that also lowered costs (including manufacturing costs) and eliminated the use of lead.
By May 2014 Oxford PV had hit on a tin perovskite solar cell. Coincidentally, over here in the US, researchers at Northwestern University also announced a lead-free perovskite solar cell in development that is also based on tin.
In the latest news, Oxford PV has announced that its thin-film perovskite solar cell technology is available for application as an extra “turbo boost” layer for conventional silicon solar cells.
According to the company, the extra layer will ramp up solar cell efficiency by 20 percent.
If that sounds incredible, it kind of is. When you do the math (which Oxford PV has done for us, so we don’t have to bother with all that), you get an “absolute” solar cell efficiency increase that tops out at about 5 percent.
Still, a 5 percent increase just from slathering an extra layer on a pre-existing silicon solar cell is still highly significant, especially when you reduce the cost of that extra layer down to the bone.
Solar Cell Efficiency Beats BIPV
Oxford PV originally developed its perovskite solar cell as a glass coating for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), and we are huge fans of BIPV but we can totally understand why the company decided to give the new perovskite solar cell coating a push forward.
Under current plans, Oxford PV is on track to have its BIPV licensees in production sometime in 2017. The company’s new Chief Technology, Chris Case, expects to have the “turbo boost” application in production much faster than that (here’s that link again):
In two years of R&D, we’ve gone from a conversion efficiency of 5 percent as a standalone solar cell to above 17 percent — and the data is continuously improving as we try new things. We believe this material can deliver conversion efficiencies in the high twenties in a relatively short period of time. Ultimately, it will drive the performance of solar panels to the next level. Based on progress with customer partners, we expect to see prototype panels available in 2015.
Since 2015 is right around the corner it looks like we’re going to find out pretty soon if the new turbo boost thing will happen as predicted.
If it does, it looks like anybody who was predicting the demise of conventional silicon solar cells has some ‘splaining to do.
Yet Another Diesel-Killing Solar Cell
More to the point, those of you predicting (and hoping for) the global demise of diesel will have lots more to cheer about.
In that regard, we were just saying that the Saudi Arabia solar industry is on a big push to wean the country off diesel for electricity generation, though it’s also planning to build more domestic refineries for diesel export.
The solar industry in Israel is also on the diesel-killing solar train, as we found during a visit last year to a network of kibbutz-based solar farms in the country’s Arava region.
The aim of the network is to get the local economy off the grid, take the nearby tourist city of Haifa off its dependency on diesel electricity generation, and export the solar farm business models to promising markets such as South Africa.
Last time we checked, the Arava system was on the cusp of a solar energy storage solution that would make all that happen sooner rather than later, so stay tuned.