Perovskite solar cells are considered to have great potential in producing energy, but researchers at Northwestern University and the US Department of Energy claim that these solar cells can provide a return on investment after only three months.
This is ten times faster than current cells, which are made of silicon.
Solar panels do leave a carbon footprint; the process of manufacturing, the necessary materials, repair and maintenance all consume fossil fuels. The panels also need to be discarded once they are no longer functional, adding to the total carbon used per panel. Silicon-based panels do not offset this investment of energy until they have been operating for between two and three years. The manufacturing process is very energy-intensive, as it requires high-purity crystalline silicon wafers that can only be made in energy-wasting, high-temperature furnaces.
While perovskite cells have not yet caught up to silicon in terms of efficiency. They do not convert quite as much sunlight to energy as the solar cells currently available on the market, but they are much cheaper to make. Released on the residential solar market, they might be able to draw in people who can’t afford to switch to solar right now.
Instead of high-tech, specialized equipment, perovskite cells are made by coating a substrate in a solution with suspended electrode materials. The water evaporates, and leaves behind crystals of perovskite.
The additional materials needed to make perovskite cells, lead and gold, have their own environmental problems. These solar cells also tend to break down when exposed to the air, since they are composed partly of organic materials. Researchers expect that these problems may be overcome in as little as two years, however, so the future of perovskite cells looks bright.