An Oxford-based solar technology firm Oxford PV claims to create a new type of solar panels which could be the world's most efficient solar panels. They used a crystal first discovered more than 200 years ago to help harness more of the sun's power. They also confirmed to sell the panels to the public within a year.
These next-generation solar panels will be able to generate almost a third more electricity than traditional silicon-based solar panels by coating the panels with a thin layer of a crystal material called 'Perovskite'. The crystal was first discovered by a Russian mineralogist in the Ural mountains in 1839 but for the last 10 years scientists around the world have been locked in a race to engineer the mineral to help generate more renewable electricity at a lower cost.
Oxford PV's chief executive officer, Frank Averdung said,
There are other companies working on perovskite, of course, and these other companies will eventually have a commercial focus, but none of these companies has the same focus on the combination of silicon and perovskite which we do.
The crystal is able to absorb different parts of the solar spectrum than traditional silicon. By coating a traditional solar power cell with perovskite they increased its power generation. Typically a silicon solar cell is able to convert up to about 22% of the available solar energy into electricity. But in June 2018, Oxford PV's perovskite-on-silicon solar cell surpassed the best performing silicon-only solar cell by reaching a new world record of 27.3%.
The breakthrough would offer the first major step-change in solar power generation since the technology emerged in the 1950s. The chief technology officer at Oxford PV, Dr Chris Case said,
Silicon has reached its culmination of capability. There are residual improvements to be made, and cost of production opportunities, but from a performance standpoint it is at its efficiency limit. The perovskite material is something totally innovative for solar.
The perovskite-coated panels will appear different too. Instead of the blue tint usually associated with traditional silicon panels, Oxford PV's panels will appear black and blend in better with rooftop slates.