> This incredible pace of solar cost decline, with average prices in sunny parts of the world down to a penny or two by 2030 or 2035, is just remarkable. Building new solar would routinely be cheaper than operating already built fossil fuel plants, even in the world of ultra-cheap natural gas we live in now. This is what I’ve called the third phase of clean energy, where building new clean energy is cheaper than keeping fossil fuel plants running. Even in places like Northern Europe, by the later 2030s we’d see solar costs below the operating cost of fossil fuels, providing cheap electricity in summer months with their very long days in the high latitudes. These prices would be disruptive to a large fraction of already operating fossil fuel power plants – particularly coal power plants, that are far less able to ramp their power flexibly...
(hat tip to the Forge the Future newsletter: https://forgethefuture.substack.com/?no_cover=true)
I predict a lot of fossil plants will convert to simply providing inertia for grid stabilisation and charge for the service. They won't burn anything any more and may even demolish their stacks and cooling towers. They will just keep their generators and turbines connected to the grid as a big virtual flywheel to dampen spikes in demand / supply and maintain the AC frequency within tolerance.
Old panels were bad, but without it we wouldn't have today's cheap and efficient panels, with more drops to come.
Just like with batteries, recycling will become more profitable and thus researched as we march forward
Nuclear’s failure states are pretty awful, see Chernobyl, Fukushima for disasters, but just (something I learned as a kid) the Irish Sea being quite significantly radioactively polluted through normal operation of plants in the area.
Also, Chernobyl is not a Gen4 reactor, the core design of RBMK reactor was highly unstable, and that the problem with anti-nuclear lobbying: we're stuck with old design we have since learned a lot from.
Got any figures for that? Higher than the ecological cost of dumping radioactive stuff into the pacific, or polluting the Irish sea?
As someone who might last another 40 years, but is hoping his kids last another 60 to 80, I'm OK if the cost is monetary in 30 years, as opposed to ecologically over that time.
> Also, Chernobyl is not a Gen4 reactor
Was Fukushima though?
Assuming a 15W per sqft, and an average weight of 3lb per sqft, and assuming the output of a nuclear power plant is around 1GW, you'll need about 9e+4T of solar panel that you're gonna need to recycle over a lifespan of 40 years. Just the volume of this waste is 4.5e+3 truck load, and I'm not even getting started about recycling the silicon cells themselves (ie. very nasty chemicals), and all this is just about 1 equivalent plants. US wide, you'd probably need 200x this (to be significant), plus a 5x extra capacity to deal with fluctuation and non-peak production, that's another 3 order of magnitude. You also need to factor into account a redesign of the grid to accomodate with the mesh production, and the extra battery on each site.
Compare this to burying a few hundreds tons per year of low volume wastes for ~eternity in a cave in the middle of nowhere.
> Was Fukushima though?
No, Fukushima used BWR design from the 1060's, so geneneration 2.
Wow, animal-powered nuclear fission? These Heian period horse-drawn neutron beams were pretty ahead of their time though.
I have some second hand panels that are around 10 years old, I'm sure they are less efficient and I have had to replace diodes etc - but it seems to me that if you have lots of space (as we do in Aus) you could just keep adding new panels without getting rid of old ones
(You will probably need to replace the inverter during that time, but the panels will be fine)
Unbelievable people think piles of huge diode in backyards is “green” somehow. I’m all in nukes since I realized that.
In contrast, taking your module efficiency from 20% to 21% increases electricity generation by 5% and thus reduces costs per kWh by 5%.
* The materials involved in production of such cells and of power-stations/fields based on them - in particular, their rarity and/or their toxicity.
* The sustainability and environmental impact of procuring the materials.
* Longevity of the cells.
* Recyclability / decomposability of the cells at end-of-life.
* Logistical considerations in setting up and operating solar cell fields, specifically of this type.
* Ease/cost/frequency of maintenance on these cells, individually and in a solar-field, when in operation.
and perhaps other factors I'm forgetting. Still, the materials science achievement is to be lauded.
It would be better to address perovskite cells specifically.
And you have to consider the ecosystem:
- fossil fuel engines require much more maintenance than electrical engines, and now vehicules always embed heavy electronics anyway.
- fuel need to be transported at a heavy cost, which is now hidden by the massive demand. The day we use more solar than fossil, the whole fossil infra will suddenly feels very expensive
- most countries are not like the US and don't have oil on their soil. Countries don't like to be dependant on others for critical things. You may buy solar panels (or fuel engine) from a friendly country, but if things turn out badly, people can't cut sunlight from you one the initial setup is there.
Nothing is perfect of course, but I like the solar future we are hinted at.
Having said that - maintenance of cars using fossil fuels is not a relevant comparison, since we're talking about power plants.
Personally, I doubt that we can just -whoosh- swap the coal and petroleum for solar-based electricity and have our problems solved. It's likely that a lot of social effort to conserve more and waste less energy will be necessary to reach some sort of long-term-sustainable state of affairs.
- Increasing the longevity of the cells is the main achievement of the research.
- Gas-spectromenty should help in understanding the toxicity as well
- Something that's 200 cheaper than the current material and scalable can't be rare at the same time.
The test says it's 1800 hours of stressful conditions for the cells. Assuming 10h of sunlight per day, that's 180 days of stability. I guess time will tell how long they really last, but it's good news that they surpassed test requirements.
And having a 25% conversion rate baseline compared to a ~26% assumed max for silicon is also impressive. I wonder how much they can boost that.
The material economics go wild if you try to solve for stability of perovskite. You really don't know how much this thing is going to cost.
With perovskite, from what I remember, you get the nice efficiencies with lead based perovskites.
This increases the price of electricity as you layer it on top and you get an extra 2% efficiency.
In a lab you can demonstrate how much material something uses, how long it lasts under given conditions, and, say, how sensitive it is to contamination. But you can't predict, you know, the late-oughties polysilicon price bubble, the ensuing long-term purchase agreements made by companies like Evergreen, and the subsequent polysilicon price collapse that sunk those companies. (I'm still not sure where modern PV cell companies source their silicon! Is it UMG?)
"How cheap?" is a question about international trade, mining, and management, not a question about materials science. Don't expect materials scientists to be able to answer it.
My personal guess is that single-junction perovskite cells will not ever overtake single-junction silicon cells for rooftop or utility scale solar. Single junction perovskite cells may be used in applications where light weight and flexibility are advantageous, like charging portable electronics, if they can be stabilized.
Perovskite cells may compete in rooftop/utility solar with conventional silicon when incorporated into tandem cell designs -- either perovskite on silicon or a stack of different perovskites with different band gaps. That gives them the potential to exceed conventional crystalline silicon module efficiency rather than merely play catch-up. The company that seems to be furthest along with this approach is Oxford PV, which is pursuing a perovskite/silicon tandem design:
Putting PV panels on a vehicle can give you a few miles per day - enough to get you to a plug if battery drains too low. More an emergency tool than viable power source.
Rooftop mounted, optimally oriented PV systems at Seattle latitude have an annual capacity factor of ~ 14%. That means a 1 kW system will average 140 W output over a year. That system has a module area of about 4-7 m^2, equivalent to the area available on a sedan.
On a car that has suboptimal module orientation and solar exposure, "power density" (RE: Smil) is really low.
A way to think of it is to imagine a gas-powered car with a gas tank that magically refilled at a rate of one gallon per week. That would be a great feature, but it wouldn't really change what you do with the car. It would mostly just mean spending less on gas over the lifetime of the car.
In the end, a car costs a lot of money and provides a couple square meters of usable space. Roofs of houses are a lot bigger and can supply the needs of a household, but if you're in the business of energy production and want to generate energy on the scale of a major power plant, it makes far more sense to use cheap land in sunny places away from cities.
The world installed about 117 gigawatts (peak) of solar PV last year . If the average panel is 17% efficient that's more than 680 million square meters of panels being manufactured per year. World motor vehicle production in 2018 was 96 million . To put more solar panels on vehicles than we already put in fields and on rooftops, the average vehicle would need more than 7 square meters of surface covered with panels. That's neglecting that most vehicles are still internal combustion vehicles that couldn't do much with the electricity those panels would generate.
Yeah, it's the old square-cube law in action.
That is a bit below what a very aerodynamic car needs to maintain highway speed so sort of relevant from a range extension perspective but 100% efficient panels and 5m^2 being fully illuminated at once are not very realistic assumptions.
I could see electric trucks(non commuting) + tiny home on wheel with big arrays potentially being viable though. That + starlink would make a pretty cool working remote combo.
"new solar cells are 94% of the price than existing mono-crystalline cells"
More expensive were inverter, controller, batteries.
Nobody cares if a solar panel is 2% efficient if it costs 100 times less to fabricate and install. Just build more of them. Still, it is good news to see this sort of energy research bearing fruit.
Panels at 2% efficiency would be wildly uneconomical at practical any price.
I guarantee that is wrong, if the price got low enough it would be economical. Wikipedia suggests to me  plants operate at 3-6%, and plants are extremely economical. Even starving African children can afford access to plants. If solar panels were as cheap and easy to produce/distribute as plants but could be plugged in to a grid then 2% efficiency would be wildly economical - it would be the greatest energy revolution in human history.
It doesn't require that much imagination to say that solar cells might one day be work in an extremely similar fashion to plants. Not likely, but not an outrageous thought.
Nature has produced a cheaper, more ubiquitous and more self-replicating solar system using efficiencies in the 5% range with a theoretical cap of 11%. That suggests we don't need 25% efficiency to accomplish amazing things. It isn't a critical metric.
The biofuel is burning what amounts to the plant's surplus energy that it wasn't using for anything, and recovering some of the energy that went growing the mass of the plant. It isn't comparable.
The point here is plants are covered with tiny green solar panels that are grossly inefficient compared to what humans produce. However, they are beyond cheap to produce (in fact they grow themselves) and suggest that we are not even close to pushing the limits on what we can do with solar energy design wise.
Efficiency of the solar panels really isn't all that important compared to making something with the flexibility and weight of a leaf. Comparing efficiency between solar panels is a waste of time outside the research community; all that matters is total cost to install vs. watts produced.
I use a modern portable solar panel that's in the realm of ~25% efficiency when camping, and I certainly wish it were smaller for the same output. I'd be willing to pay more for that.
There's obviously segments that care more about efficiency than cost, not all solar applications have unlimited space.
You can see even at utility scale the panel prices are generally less than 50%. I think 2018 increase was tariff related. Been out of the industry ~5 years so don't follow stuff that closely. Many of the other costs are basically a multiple of # of panels which would be 10x at 2% efficiency.
And that was the point - weight and difficulty of transporting the final system is a very important variable. Probably more important than efficiency when orders of magnitude are concerned. From a 25% base efficiency can double and double then it stops improving. Weights and installation costs due to the panel technology can halve and halve and halve and so on - and each halving reduces the cost of transporting the panels. There are more gains to be made there. It would be worth trading efficiency away to make big gains there.
I think Perovskites are interesting because they are cheap and can get you 25% efficiency in a single layer cell.