Paint Your House With Solar Cells?
Imagine that, instead of turning up with the solar panels we are familiar with today, your solar installer arrived with a can of paint and a paintbrush to paint your house with solar cells. That’s one vision for the future of solar power, although it may be more likely that the solar paint comes already coated onto a plastic sheet that can be attached to a wide range of surfaces.
Research into dye-sensitised solar cells that can be printed or painted has been going on for decades, with the aim of producing solar power at very low cost. One problem such cells have suffered from is low efficiency; far lower than silicon solar cells, and with the big fall in the cost of silicon solar panels, dye-sensitised solar cells weren’t viable.
Now there’s a new word to remember: perovskite. This can refer to a specific mineral “calcium titanium oxide if you want to get technical“ or to minerals of a similar structure but comprising different elements.
The important thing is that incorporating perovskite into solar cells provides a big increase in efficiency. In the lab, efficiencies of up to 17% have been reported. That’s still short of silicon solar panels at over 20%, but if perovskite-based solar cells can live up to their promise of cheap fabrication, they could be very attractive for a couple of reasons.
Silicon solar panels are really at their best in bright sunshine. Dye-based cells, on the other hand, offer better low-light performance. This opens up the prospect of being able to cover pretty much all surfaces of a building with solar panels of one type or another and generate cost-effective solar power. That possibility will be boosted by the flexibility of printable or paintable solar cells, opening up the potential for architects to use them in exciting ways.
Solar paint and printable solar cells aren’t on the market yet, but great progress has been made in the last year or two. Who knows? It might not be too long before we are equipping our installers with paint brushes and solar paint.