A team of scientists at The University of Manchester has solved a key flaw in solar panels after 40 years of research around the world.
Solar panels are among the most available system of generating energy through renewable sources due to their relative cost and consumer availability. However, the majority of solar cells only achieve 20% efficiency – for every kW of equivalent sunlight, about 200W of electrical power can be generated.
Now an international team of researchers have resolved a key fundamental issue of material defect which limits and degrades solar cell efficiency. The problem has been known about and studied for over 40 years, with over 270 research papers attributed to the issue with no solution.
The new research shows the first observation of a previously unknown material defect which limits silicon solar cell efficiency.
Prof Tony Peaker, who co-ordinated the research now published in the Journal of Applied Physics said: “Because of the environmental and financial impact solar panel ‘efficiency degradation’ has been the topic of much scientific and engineering interest in the last four decades. However, despite some of the best minds in the business working on it, the problem has steadfastly resisted resolution until now.”
“During the first hours of operation, after installation, a solar panel’s efficiency drops from 20% to about 18%. An absolute drop of 2% in efficiency may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that these solar panels are now responsible for delivering a large and exponentially growing fraction of the world’s total energy needs, it’s a significant loss of electricity generating capacity.”
The energy cost of this shortfall across the world’s installed solar capacity measures in the 10’s of gigawatts, this is equivalent to more energy than is produced by the UK’s combined total of 15 nuclear power plants. The solar shortfall has to be therefore met by other less sustainable energy sources such as burning fossil fuels.