A recently announced solar power breakthrough in solar technology could change the way electricity is generated for good. Researchers have developed a new type of solar photovoltaic (PV) cell that uses a system similar to that employed by plants to capture solar energy. These new solar photovoltaic cells have been labelled ‘dye-sensitised solar cells’ (DSSC) because they are made from a nanocrystalline titanium oxide film plus a sensitizer dye, which can then be printed onto building materials such as steel, glass and plastic allowing them to generate electricity.
DSSC cells have been developed in a joint venture between Australian company Dyesol and in Wales, Tata Steel, and in America Pilkington Glass, which could reach mass production in about five years time.
Many companies are rushing to produce DSSC cells at a larger scale. The idea and also biggest challenge is to coat building materials with this “solar dye” in a continuous and viable industrial process.
James Durrant of the Department of Chemistry and Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London, said: “If just 10% of Tata’s annual steel output were coated with DSSC, this would represent the output capacity equivalent to a 1GW nuclear power station per year”.
Rodney Rice from Tata Steel, speaking from their DSSC Demonstration Roof at the PV Accelerator in Shotton, North Wales, where the process is being tested, told Energy and Environmental Management that he backs James Durrant statement: “We use high speed large scale coating, on steel rolls 1.5m wide, put through at a speed of 200 metres per minute.
“This adds up to 200 million square metres of steel per annum, of which half ends up on buildings. If we assume 10 to 20% of this is on a roof or wall and the PV is operating at between 8 and 10% efficiency, then this will easily equate to 1 GW per year.”
While the technology proved to be effective there are still many challenges to overcome before it reaches mass production. Rodney Rice also said that they have not yet developed the perfect dye and different dyes are being researched all over the world by different companies.
The first company to successfully produce cladding for buildings which can cheaply produce electricity, will dominate a multibillion pound market.
Researchers are being cautious about a timescale, some say it could reach mass production in the next five years, others are more conservative and say it will be viable within ten years.
Either way it will be before the new nuclear power stations are ready. So the million dollar question is: Will Dye-sensitised solar cells make nuclear uncompetitive?
The advantages are quite clear and when I think about how easy it will be to install and use this technology to generate electricity, I can only think of it as a massive game changer.
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