August 24, 2007 Enough solar energy falls on U.S. soil to provide 500 times the country's energy needs – but the cost of harvesting this free and sustainable resource is preventing people from using it to power their homes. That’s why scientists in the sunny U.K. are excited about the possibility of thin-layer photovoltaic cells that could bring the price of solar energy down and make solar cells a viable addition to the average home.
Current commercially available solar cells are frequently silicon-based and contain indium, a rare and expensive metal that contributes to the high cost of solar panel installations – but a new research project at Durham university in Britain aims to find cheaper and more accessible alternatives, focusing on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.
It’s hoped that the development of more affordable thin-film PV cells could lead to a reduction in the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in the use of solar power, which currently provides less than one hundredth of one percent of the UK’s home energy needs.
The thin-layer PV cells would be used to make solar panels that could be fitted to roofs to help power homes with any surplus electricity being fed back to the National Grid, leading to cheaper fuel bills and less reliance on fossil fuels for energy.
Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, who is leading the research, said: “One of the main issues in solar energy is the cost of materials and we recognize that the cost of solar cells is slowing down their uptake.
“If solar panels were cheap enough so you could buy a system off the shelf that provided even a fraction of your power needs you would do it, but that product isn’t there at the moment.
“The key indicator of cost effectiveness is how many pounds do you have to spend to get a watt of power out? If you can make solar panels more cheaply then you will have a winning product.”