The siren call of the ultra-cheap, highly efficient perovskite solar cell has lured many a researcher into the lab, and now the big investors are getting into the act — including a company that has roots in the fossil energy industry. The new venture is yet another sign that some oil and gas stakeholders can pivot their R&D resources to push the renewable energy revolution into high gear — so why aren’t they all doing it?
US Energy Dept. Hearts Red Hot Perovskite Solar Cell Field
Plenty of ink has been spilled on the perovskite solar cell topic of late, and for good reason. Synthetic perovksite crystals are relatively cheap and easy to grow, and their superior optical qualities are a perfect match for the next generation of low cost solar cells. They can be rendered into a solution and painted onto just about any surface, opening up a wide new range of applications unavailable to standard PV technology.
Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, perovskite technology initially promised much but gave little, as the untailored crystals tend to fall apart when exposed to air. However, with the potential for a huge payoff beckoning, thousands of researchers all over the world have been hammering away at more durable variations, and all that hard work is paying off.
One of those hard at work is Hunt Perovskite Technologies, which just popped up on the CleanTechnica radar in February regarding its ongoing partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which comes under the US Department of Energy umbrella.
NREL has been an enthusiastic supporter of perovskite technology for ten years with an assist from HPT. In 2020 NREL further cemented the relationship by engaging HPT as a founding member of its new US Manufacturing Advanced Perovskite Consortium, aimed at settling those durability issues once and for all, and last April HPT nailed down $2.5 million in Energy Department funding to continue its perovskite solar cell efforts.
The Perovskite Solar Cell Of The Future
On the theme of The Great Pivot from fossil energy into more sustainable energy, HPT is a good example because it comes under the umbrella of the legacy firm Hunt Consolidated group, which is all over oil and gas like white on rice. Here, let’s have HPT explain:
“HPT was created and incubated within Hunt Energy Enterprises, Hunt’s energy technology venture business unit. It is part of a larger privately-owned group of companies managed by the Ray L. Hunt family that engages in oil and gas exploration, refining, power, real estate, ranching and private equity investments. For more information, visit www.huntperovskite.com.”
Got all that? Good! HPT has not been letting the perovskite solar cell grass grow under its feet. Last week, it hooked up with another Energy Department perovskite partner, 1366 Technologies, to announce that the two have merged to form a new company called CubicPV, and they have already nailed down $25 million in funding from Hunt Energy Enterprises, First Solar, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, among others.
“The merger combines two disruptive technologies – 1366’s Direct Wafer® process and HPT’s printed perovskite solar photovoltaic (PV) technology – to bring to market powerful tandem modules to lead the rapidly growing solar industry,” CubicPV explains.
In terms of solar conversion efficiency, an ordinary perovskite solar cell is no match for conventional silicon solar cells, which continue to set the industry standard. However, CubicPV aims to beat silicon at its own game by combining HPT’s durable perovskite formula with 1366’s proprietary “Direct Wafer” method for applying melted silicon to a supporting material, leading to a significant cut in production costs while boosting solar conversion efficiency close to the respectable mark of 24%.
“We have the blueprint for achieving economically-viable, tandem solutions for terawatt-scale,” enthused Frank van Mierlo, who takes up the reins as CEO of CubicPV from his former position as CEO of 1366 Technologies.
The former CTO of HPT, Michael D. Irwin, was similarly enthusiastic in his new role as CTO of CubicPV.
“This agreement will unite two of the solar industry’s most disruptive technologies to dramatically boost the energy harvest and drive down costs of solar installations, helping to meet the world’s electrification and climate goals,” Irwin said.
They Can Pivot To Renewable Energy Storage, Too
Meanwhile, Hunter Hunt, who is CEO of Hunt Energy Enterprises, took note of the company’s early-on commitment to perovskite solar cell technology, back when researchers were still struggling with the durability issue.
“Eight years ago, Hunt made the strategic decision to focus on developing perovskite solar cells, recognizing its importance as a ‘next generation technology’ to compliment silicon and help address the world’s energy needs,” he said.
Hunt Energy Enterprises is not shy about its own potential to disrupt the whole energy sector.
“The mission of Hunt Energy Enterprises is to invest in and develop new technology ventures that have the potential to disrupt the energy industry and to develop subsequent profitable business models that create greater value for Hunt,” HEE states on its website.
They are not fooling around. Last spring another Hunt Energy Enterprises venture, Hunt Energy Network, hooked up with Manulife Investment Management to form a new company called HEN Infrastructure LLC, which will manage 500 megawatts in energy storage assets within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is the grid manager for almost all of Texas.
Pat Wood, CEO of HEN, echoed the Hunt theme of a disruptive energy transition.
“Our team is ready to speed the day when reliable electricity becomes more decentralized, more decarbonized, and more democratized,” Wood said.
ERCOT and Texas have been having a rough time of it lately, as the grid’s current reliance on centralized gas power plants has become a thorn in its side during the episodes of extreme cold and extreme hit that have buffeted the state in recent months.
With energy storage, a decentralized energy model would enable communities to island off from broader grid disruptions and recover more quickly after a crisis.
A Perovskite Solar Cell Future For The Lone Star State
HEN’s contribution to the energy storage cause is its proprietary TraDER platform, with the “DER” emphasizing the automated deployment of distributed energy resources such as wind and solar. The US Department of Energy is betting on DERs to anchor the sparkling grid of the future, and HEN is among those anticipating new energy management opportunities as the DERs trend gathers steam.
“Hunt Energy Network will play a valuable role in efficiently managing resources within the electric grid in ERCOT, and HEN Infrastructure will be a meaningful contributor to creating a more robust grid, to the benefit of all Texans,” Hunter Hunt emphasized.
Considering the disruptive potential of the CubicPV perovskite solar cell venture, “meaningful” is probably an understatement.
Despite its longstanding role in the oil and gas industry, Texas has already shaped its reputation as a renewable energy leader in the area of wind power, and it could become the epicenter of the US perovskite solar cell revolution, too.
There, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Solar conversion efficiency tracker via NREL.
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