New MIT Study Compares all Solar Technologies on Complexity and Cost

A new MIT study compares all available solar technologies on the complexity of their light-absorbing material and their potential for future commercialization based on new applications, cost reduction and easy of manufacturing. It has been published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

Conducted by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the study classified currently available solar technologies into 3 distinct categories:

1 – Wafer-based cells: which include traditional silicon and alternatives such as gallium arsenide;

2 – Commercial thin film cells: which include amorphous silicon and cadmium telluride, and;

3 – Emerging technologies: which include organic, dye-sensitized solar cells and the exotic quantum dot solar cells.

The study then develops a common framework of material complexity, with which to evaluate the 3 categories, and comes up with interesting results.

For example, it shows that although traditional silicon is a simple material that is abundantly available, crystalline silicon technology is highly complex, requiring very high levels of purity and manufacturing dexterity. It is also not particularly efficient at absorbing sunlight.

On the other hand, perovskites, organic solar cells and quantum dots were materials with complex molecular structures, but they could be deposited onto various flexible substrates quickly and at low temperatures; thereby simplifying the manufacturing process.

However, the study also points out that the emerging technologies are still at the lower end of the light-absorbing efficiency scale. Regardless, they hold immense potential for commercial deployment, especially with some of them possessing inherent qualities such as transparency to visible light and being extremely thin and light in weight.

These qualities could possibly open up hitherto unexplored applications, market segments and practical solutions. The study also cautions against the dependence on traditionally available thin film technologies due to the constrained availability of some of the rare materials used in their manufacture. Instead, the researchers recommend the development of new, more easily available materials to lower costs even further.

Future Research on Solar Technologies

The recommendation is in line with the 3 themes of future investigation that the study proposes: that of increasing the materials’ energy conversion efficiency (i.e. getting more solar power per square meter), reducing the concentration of materials per solar cell and of reducing the cost and complexity of solar cell manufacturing.

The third theme is focused on moving away from high-temperature processing, and encourages a transition to “roll-to-roll coating processes” for ultra low cost manufacturing.

The study has been well received by the scientific community because it does not favor any technology over the other, but instead defines a new way of evaluating their relative commercial potential and cost implications.

To read more about the study, click here.

To read more about the performance of solar cells, click here.

READ ALSO:

A Primer on Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV)

A Brief on Types of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

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Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
Aniruddha Bhattacharjee
Aniruddha has been a renewable energy researcher and report writer for over 3 years. He has also been a content developer for multiple websites, including portals on travel and tourism, restaurants and personal finance. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in endangered species conservation. Apart from renewable energy, Aniruddha is a keen motor sports and aviation enthusiast, and a beginner in photography.
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