The global energy landscape after the COVID-19 crisis is still an open question, but it looks like the US Department of Energy is coming down firmly on the side of solar energy. Among the latest developments, the agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has just revved up a new public-private consortium aimed at propelling low-cost perovskite solar cells into the marketplace.
How Low Can Solar Go? Perovskite Solar Cells Go Low, Low, Low
For those of you new to the topic, perovskite is a naturally occurring crystalline material that can be synthesized, tweaked, and tailored to tease out some mighty fine solar conversion capabilities at a relatively low cost.
Perovskite solar cells are also thin and flexible, which means they can be produced through high efficiency, high volume manufacturing solutions-based methods like printing and spraying.
Aside from being impressive at solar conversion for generating electricity, perovskite solar cells could also be deployed in other interesting applications.
“Perovskites have shown tremendous promise in a range of other technologies, including solid-state lighting, advanced radiation detection, dynamic sensing and actuation, photo-catalysis, and quantum information science,” enthuses NREL.
Perovskite Solar Cells Are (Almost) Ready For Their Closeup
Perovskite-based solar cells are already beginning to ease into the market, but apparently NREL is not satisfied with the pace. The lab has been a global hotspot for perovskite research and intends to hold the pole position with the new perovskite consortium.
Called US-MAP for US Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites Consortium, the effort aims at resolving a number of issues involving manufacturing and durability. US-MAP will also tackle sustainability issues, some of which relate to the use of lead and other metals.
Along with NREL, the founding organizers and resource providers are Washington Clean Energy Testbeds (University of Washington), University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Toledo, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
The organizers will coordinate and focus funding from federal sources and also explore private-sector funding. They will be working with a six-member team of industry partners consisting of BlueDot Photonics, Energy Materials Corporation, First Solar, Hunt Perovskites Technologies, Swift Solar, and Tandem PV.
They already have a good head start. Several of the partners already have perovskite solar cell R&D funding in their pockets through the Energy Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
“Some US-MAP founding organizers are funded by state and local government programs intended to foster regional economic development within the United States,” NREL notes, adding that “Early investments by the Department of Energy…and the Department of Defense at the founding organizers and domestic industry partners have enabled the U.S. to be at the forefront of many of these technology areas and fostered a vibrant community of industrial leaders.”
Solar Vs. Natural Gas
Just a reminder: all of this activity is aimed at driving the cost of solar cells down and broadening their application, and that’s going to happen at the expense of fossil fuels.
Even with today’s technology, solar power is already beginning to edge natural gas out of the picture. Cost is just one consideration. NREL, for one, is convinced that solar can also deliver superior grid services, so just imagine what could happen when perovskite solar cells scale up and hit the mass market. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo: “NREL researcher David Moore holds a perovskite solar cell painted with a special ink he developed.” Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.