A new type of solar cell, made from a material that is dramatically cheaper to obtain and use than silicon, could generate as much power as today’s commodity solar cells.
Although the potential of the material is just starting to be understood, it has caught the attention of the world’s leading solar researchers, and several companies are already working to commercialize it.
Researchers developing the technology say that it could lead to solar panels that cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt. Solar panels now typically cost about 75 cents a watt, and the U.S. Department of Energy says 50 cents per watt will allow solar power to compete with fossil fuel.
In the past, solar researchers have been divided into two camps in their pursuit of cheaper solar power. Some have sought solar cells that can be made very cheaply but that have the downside of being relatively inefficient. Lately, more researchers have focused on developing very high efficiency cells, even if they require more expensive manufacturing techniques.
The new material may make it possible to get the best of both worlds—solar cells that are highly efficient but also cheap to make.