The Big Picture About Potential Solar Cell Breakthroughs

Much has been written recently about potential solar cell technology breakthroughs. Here’s the big picture – it won’t matter that much.

How can this be so? Aren’t we all waiting for a major solar breakthrough to be able to make a much quicker transition to a solar-powered world?

Before we look into why it doesn’t matter much, let’s at least consider a recent solar cell story for some background information.
Scientists working on perovskite
In a recent article from ScienceDaily.com, it is mentioned that the mineral Perovskite has the potential to add much value to the solar panel manufacturing industry. Scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University have shown that this material has promise to offer similar qualities to that of crystalline silicon.

For a material to qualify as a good source for solar panel production, it must meet the requirements of the “golden triangle”; The sunlight conversion rate must be high, it must be cheap to produce, and it must last a long time. So far, the team has shown that Perovskite can meet these requirements, at least on smaller sample sizes. The next and possibly final challenge, is to be able to reproduce the material in larger size samples and at the same time retaining the same qualities needed for commercial production.

Lab tests do not show that Perovskite can provide a better sunlight conversion percentage than the current standard of 20 percent, so its main advantage lies in its cheaper costs. How much cheaper? Well, that’s not mentioned in the article and may not be known quite yet. However, it won’t matter much. Let’s look into this now.

As discussed in the cost of solar page, the price of solar panels is only about one fourth of the total cost of going solar. On a per watt basis, many solar panels cost about 75 cents per watt. The total cost to get solar installed on a home in many parts of the United States is still about $3 per watt.

A good question then is – how cheaply can solar panels be produced? At 75 cents per watt, they are already fairly cheap and do not represent a large part of the overall solar installation cost. Let’s assume that new improvements to solar cell technology being worked on by many scientists are ultimately taken to market and they are able to cut the costs of producing solar cells almost in half. Let’s say they shaved 30 cents per watt off the costs.

The following example would be typical of the new costs savings should this new material be taken to market.

Average old price for going solar – 5 kilowatt system at $3 per watt is $15,000 before incentives.

Average new price for going solar – 5 kilowatt system at $2.70 per watt is $13,500 before incentives.

So as we can see, this new solar cell breakthrough would allow for a savings of about $1,500 on average.

Will this enable a massive number of homeowners to now be able to go solar? Obviously, no. The bottom line is that solar power is already cost effective. It’s actually cheaper than conventional electricity all across America.

To be clear, the point of this post is not to discount the important work scientists around the world are doing on advancements in solar cell technology. Instead, there needs to be more focus and awareness on how the solar industry has already matured. No further advancements are needed for mass adoption. The time to go solar is now!

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