Technology rarely evolves gradually; instead, it propels itself forward in fits and starts as new innovations and ways of thinking provide short-term bursts of momentum to overall development. The solar energy world is no different, and it looks like a promising new technology could hold the secret to the next breakthrough in solar panel efficiency and cost.
That next breakthrough technology could be organic molecules, which promise to make energy generation faster, cheaper, and more efficient. One of the biggest problems holding solar panels back from widespread installation is their reliance on conventional photovoltaic cells, which are typically comprised of crystalline silicon. Silicon is rigid, inflexible, heavy, and is usually produced in an intensive, inefficient process that makes it both expensive and somewhat harmful to the environment.
The problem is that there aren’t many alternatives for crystalline silicon. A team of researchers at Tulane University is hoping to change that by making a new kind of hybrid cell. In this complex organic model, solar cells would function on a nano-level, using multiple different materials interacting with each other on a microscopic scale. Organic cells like these are lighter, more flexible, and cheaper to produce, but the big limitation is their efficiency—currently, silicon cells are able to operate at a 25 percent efficiency level, while the best organic cells of today hover around 11 percent.
Researchers are hoping to overcome these efficiency obstacles by producing an interface that allows a greater spectrum of solar energy to be absorbed and simultaneously prevents the trapping and losing of electrons that typically reduces the amount of power that reaches the final electrode. It remains to be seen exactly how or when researchers will be able to fully close this efficiency gap, but when it happens, it could introduce an entire new world of energy generation to the solar power industry.
Until then, silicon-based photovoltaic panels will continue to be industry front-runners, regardless of the panels being used, solar racking and mounting units like the Solar FlexRack™ are the best means for mounting panels and improving efficiency on a jobsite. Find out more about how the Solar FlexRack solar tracker can improve the efficiency and ultimate ROI of any solar panel.