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A 'revolutionary' breakthrough in solar power technology could bring cheap, clean energy to more homes: 'It's very exciting'

It may set a new benchmark for efficiency.

It may set a new benchmark for efficiency.

Photo Credit: iStock

Solar energy experts are finding that blue and red can create green. 

No, they aren't color blind (blue and red in fact create the color purple). They are talking about clean energy, specifically impressive solar cell advances that harness the sun's powerful blue and red light waves in tandem. The results could bring the cleaner energy source to more homes and businesses than ever before at a pivotal time for the planet's health

Silicon cells are the most common type of cell in solar energy systems, capturing energy from the sun's red light waves, with peak efficiency at between about 15% and 25% available commercially, and some cells in laboratories reaching 27%. Researchers at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) are among experts adding a layer of material, called perovskite, capable of catching the sun's blue light.

Their silicon/perovskite combo cells can operate with greater than 33% efficiency, making their sunbeam catchers the most efficient on record, according to KAUST. A photo shared by the university shows a researcher holding one of the cells, which are about the size of a thumbnail. 

"This year is a revolutionary year," KAUST professor Stefaan De Wolf told the Guardian. "It's very exciting." 

It's part of an enlightened time for the solar energy industry as scientists at renowned universities worldwide work to create highly efficient and low-cost solar power systems. They feel the advances could save the world from a dark, overheated fate, already being marked by rising mercury. 

The Guardian reports that solar energy capacity reached 1.2 terawatts worldwide in 2022 (a terawatt is equal to a trillion watts and could generate about one-third of the energy needed to power the entire U.S.). But, the experts said that's not nearly enough. 

"[To] avert the catastrophic scenarios associated with global warming, the total capacity needs to increase to about 75 [terawatts] by 2050," De Wolf said in the Guardian's report.

Adding a layer of perovskite over silicon on power cells has proved to increase efficiency; however, stability and durability are among the concerns still being studied. The U.S. Energy Department reports that perovskites can "decompose" when exposed to moisture and heat, among other limitations.  

The goal is for the combined cells to match the lifespan rates of common solar cells, which can hold 80% to 90% of capacity even after 25 years, according to the Guardian. The good news is that experts from Germany, Switzerland, the U.S., and elsewhere are on the job, in labs filled with light beams and the equipment that catch them.

For De Wolf, the results of these latest solar breakthroughs carry great potential for the planet. 

"[It] is critical to rapidly achieve renewable energy goals toward combating climate change," De Wolf said in the KAUST report.

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