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Researchers develop tandem solar cell with impressive 20% efficiency — here's how it could impact energy sector

Going forward, this could mean more novel material pairings in the search for increased solar panel efficiency.

Going forward, this could mean more novel material pairings in the search for increased solar panel efficiency.

Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Solar power is abundant on Earth, and researchers across the globe have been studying various ways to harness its full potential by increasing the efficiency of solar panels

Today, many high-efficiency residential panels have reached the ability to convert just over 20% of the sun's energy into usable electricity. But these generally rely on the use of single-junction solar cells, which are made from a single layer of semiconductor material. 

A recent study focusing on tandem (or dual-layer) solar cells has shown promising results toward increasing that efficiency, as reported on the SciTechDaily platform. 

The top layer of this type of cell is made up of a relatively common material for solar cells called perovskite, named after its crystalline structure. Panels with these materials started at around 3% efficiency in 2009 but have reached over 25% today, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Underneath that is a more novel substance called antimony selenide, which is known to be an excellent inorganic light-absorbing material. Notably, it's also relatively low in toxicity and abundant. 

The group of researchers from the University of Science & Technology of China and the Hefei University of Technology thought to explore the use of antimony selenide as a sub-layer. 

One of the study's authors, Professor Tao Chen, related some insight into their thinking, as SciTechDaily reported: "Antimony selenide is a suitable bottom cell material for tandem solar cells. However, because of the rarity of reported tandem solar cells using it as a bottom cell, little attention has been paid to its application. We assembled a tandem solar cell with high conversion efficiency using it as the bottom cell to demonstrate the potential of this material."

When testing each layer independently, they achieved a 17% efficiency with the perovskite top layer and 7.58% with the underlying one, per the outlet. When mechanically assembled, the unit achieved a respectable 20.58% efficiency. 

Other tandem cell research has also been reported with excellent results. Researchers in Singapore achieved a world record of 27.1%, using postage-stamp-sized panels and a combination of perovskite, silicon, and cyanate. 

Homeowners have a lot to look forward to, but that doesn't mean you should necessarily wait for the next big breakthrough to arrive. The White House launched the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, which offers tax breaks to those upgrading their home to run on new green technology

On top of that are the tens of thousands in potential savings on electricity expenses over the 20- to 30-year life span of today's solar panels.   

That should help take the monetary sting out of buying an array for your home or business, and decreasing your carbon footprint is always a bonus. But once you've installed new panels, there are some simple, down-to-earth steps you can take to maintain their existing efficiency.

Right now, Chen says: "This work provides a new tandem device structure and demonstrates that antimony selenide is a promising absorber material for bottom cell applications in tandem solar cells." 

Going forward, this could mean more novel material pairings in the search for increased solar panel efficiency.

As the professor explained: "The high stability of antimony selenide provides great convenience for the preparation of two-terminal tandem solar cell[s], which means that it may have good results when paired with quite a few different types of top cell materials."

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