Cutting the cost of making solar panels
Professor Andrew Barron, Ser Cymru chair in engineering at Swansea University and head of the University’s new Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI), has shown that energy costs can be reduced by up to 20 per cent through changes in the manufacturing process of photovoltaic (PV) panels.
In an article for Materials Today, Professor Barron said:
“For solar energy to become cost-competitive with energy derived from fossil fuels, we must either increase their efficiency or significantly reduce the cost of manufacture.”
“A key requirement for an efficient solar cell is a low surface reflectance, to maximise the amount of incident photons absorbed by the semiconductor, to convert the incident light into electrical energy.”
However, anti-reflection coatings applied to panels are extremely costly. The coating currently used cuts the amount of light reflected back to 2 per cent. So-called black silicon is even more effective as it has a reflectance level of less than 1 per cent, but it is even more expensive to produce.
Professor Barron’s work involves modifying the process used to make black silicon: by replacing hydrogen peroxide with phosphorous acid, black silicon can be produced using cheaper chemicals.
The cost of producing a watt of electricity using this process would fall to approximately £0.09, compared to £0.11 under the existing method; an overall reduction in costs of 20 per cent.
Professor Barron said:
“It is this type of cost saving through the development of new materials processes that offers the best route to grid parity of solar with traditional carbon-based energy sources.”