Unfortunately, humans are reliant on non-renewable resources as the main foundation of energy. About 80% of the entire energy used worldwide every year is produced from fossil fuels. We are dependent on fossil fuels due to them being rich in energy and comparatively inexpensive to process. Nonetheless, the main problem with them, apart from being in a limited supply, is that their burning releases carbon dioxide. The increasing levels of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide are the key reason for global warming.
Alternate energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, are a solution to the exhaustion of non-renewable resources, as they are accessible infinitely. After fossil fuels and hydropower, the sun is our biggest source of energy. Solar energy is used all around the globe for electricity generation, heating, and purifying water.
Understanding Solar Power and Solar cells
Solar cells are electronic devices converting sunlight into electricity. Contemporary solar cells are found in the panels fitted on houses and in calculators. Nowadays, it is among the fastest-growing technologies in the renewable energy domain because of its significant role in the global electricity crisis and emission mitigation.
Solar cell installations can be combined to offer power on a commercial scale, or accommodated into smaller arrangements for personal use. Using solar cells to power mini-grids is an outstanding means to bring electricity access to individuals not living near power transmission lines, chiefly in emerging economies.
The Economical Aspect of Solar Cells
The manufacturing cost of solar panels has gone down a great deal in the last 10 years, making them an affordable technology for electricity generation. Moreover, solar panels generally have a life of around 30 years, as a result of which, the LCoE of solar energy has come down to almost at par with that of fossil-fuel-based electricity. The inclination of people toward renewable source of energy generation and the dip in the cost of solar cells will be the key reason for the growth of the ultra-thin solar cell market by over 56% in the years to come. The total energy produced by solar cells in the world in 2021 was around 843,086 MW, rising massively from 710,281 MW in 2020, says IRENA.
Advanced Ultra-Thin Solar Cells: The Biggest Breakthrough in PV?
In a technical breakthrough in March this year, scientists from the Imperial College in London and University of Surrey have developed an ultra-thin solar cell 100 times thinner than paper, measuring a miniscule 1 micrometer in thickness. Ultra-thin solar cells constructed with silicon capture up to 65% of the sunlight.
The use of a disordered hyperuniform sdesign permits almost double the absorption of light than traditional Si PV cells, which make use of a uniform slab of silicon. The new technology is still in the developmental phase, but researchers firmly believe it could bring about a higher competence than the existing technology.
Despite its extreme thinness, the 26.3 mA/cm² of energy generated by it was almost 25% higher than the previous world record of 19.72 mA/cm² set in 2017. With further improvements, scientists believe they could achieve energy generation of 33.8 mA/cm², translating into an efficiency of 21%, which is rather close to the 25% efficiency of larger PV panels made with silicon.
Other materials being experimented upon for the creation of ultra-thin solar cells are cadmium telluride (CdTe), gallium arsenide (GaAs), and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS).
Solar Power a Promising Fuel for Automobiles
Mercedes-Benz has presented the Vision EQXX electric car in January this year. As per the company, it has energy consumption of not more than 10 kWh per 100 km and a driving range in excess of 1,000 km. Moreover, the car has thin-film solar panels on the roof, which reduce the energy drain on its high-voltage system, which can add 25 km to a long-distance journey in a single day.
The power produced by the PV cells is stored in an LFP battery, which supplies the HVAC system, infotainment system, lights, and many other ancillary systems. From the year 2024, all the cars in the series will have 117 solar cells on the roof.
Future Prospects for Ultra-Thin Solar Cells
A massive growth possibility for ultra-thin solar cells lies with the low-load-bearing infrastructure and the automotive, aerospace, and space sectors. As opposed to conformist silicon-based cells, ultra-thin cells are a better alternative owing to their environment-friendly nature and cost-effectiveness. Furthermore, they produce a higher output subjective to their weight, which is the reason they are perfect for vehicle batteries and other devices used for storing energy, spacecraft and airplane power plants, actuators and sensors in soft robotics, and electronics that are worn.
APAC Reaping Biggest Benefits from Ultra-Thin Solar Cells
APAC currently generates the highest demand for ultra-thin solar cells, as the regional producers of PV panels are involved in R&D for improving their efficiency and bringing down their acquisition cost, though still making a profit. These efforts have resulted in the adoption of ultra-thin solar cells by numerous automakers in APAC to produce solar-powered electric vehicles.
Solar cells are in high demand as people are becoming aware of the pluses of producing power with renewable resources. With constant scientific advancements, the ultra-thin variant of solar cells has a vast potential, with the CIGS and CdTe technologies already having found substantial market penetration by 2018, as per the IEA.