Slashing the cost of solar power in half

11/22/04

British researchers are developing new techniques in the production of photovoltaics (PVs) that will reduce the cost of solar power by half thanks to an $8 million (4.5 million) grant from the UK SuperGen program, administered by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Managed by Professor Stuart Irvine of the University of Wales, Bangor, the research team includes academics from the University of Northumbria, University of Bath, University of Southampton, University of Durham and the University of Loughborough. The project also involves industrial partners Crystalox, Mats UK, Millbrook Instruments, Epichem, Kurt J Lesker, Oxford Lasers and Gatan UK. The estimates on the cost savings of the PV production come from these industrial partners.

"The barrier to implementation is the high cost of installation," says Irvine. "What we're proposing to do is look at silicon and thin film photovoltaics and fundamentally reduce their cost."

This research involves reducing the thickness of the coatings of the PVs, and the processing time of manufacturing the PV cells. "It relates back to fundamental materials science," says Irvine. Reducing the thickness of coatings will mean the PV cells will be able to allow more light through, and silicon in particular is known as a poor absorber of light.

"We will also look at ways of reducing the amount of expensive semiconductor material, such as silicon, while at the same time seeking ways to improve the conversion efficiency of light into electricity. This will have a double benefit where the cost of each solar panel will be reduced but will generate more renewable energy."

The project is at its start but Irvine says he is confident of exciting results.

Irvine believes this model is the way to push adoption of the technology. Relying on the traditional business practice of increasing production capacity, then increasing sales to bring the price down, is going to take too long. "My projections are it will take 20 years that way," says Irvine.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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