The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Perovskites for "Tandem" Solar Cells

"Tandem" photovoltaics that may give a boost to traditional silicon solar cells

2 min read
Perovskites for "Tandem" Solar Cells
Rongrong Cheacharoen/Stanford University

By developing a way to coat silicon photovoltaics with crystals known as perovskites, researchers are creating tandem solar cells that may be substantially better at converting light to electricity than conventional solar cells while also being manufactured at low cost.

Although photovoltaics based on crystalline silicon currently account for 90 percent of the global photovoltaic market, the power conversion efficiency of silicon photovoltaics has been at a creep, advancing from 25 percent to 25.6 percent in the past 15 years. In order to produce solar cells with higher efficiencies while making the most of the existing manufacturing capacity for silicon photovoltaics, the industry has explored devices that combine silicon with other materials. But these so-called tandem solar cells, despite offering better efficiencies, have have yet to capture more than a fraction of a percent of the global photovoltaic market. Why? Because they are typically made using expensive processes.

Scientists at MIT and Stanford, hoping to achieve high efficiency without high costs, looked into creating tandem solar cells using perovskites, which have recently become the darlings of the photovoltaic world. The efficiencies of solar cells made from perovskites have shot up from under 4 percent to more than 20 percent in the last five years or so, quickly catching up to silicon. Moreover, perovskites are inexpensive and easily produced in labs. The MIT-Stanford group detailed its findings in today’s online edition of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

In the new tandem solar cells, a layer of methylammonium-lead(II)-iodide perovskite is stacked on top of crystalline silicon. The device also incorporates layers of other materials on top of and between the perovskite and silicon to assist with the flow of electric charge. The perovskite absorbs higher-energy visible photons, while the silicon absorbs lower-energy infrared photons. According to the researchers, dividing the spectrum of sunlight between specialized absorbing layers is more efficient than letting a single layer attempt to convert the entire spectrum by itself.

The team says it developed a 1-square-centimeter tandem solar cell with a 13.7 percent conversion efficiency. The scientists suggest that if they could improve each component of the tandem solar cell to match the highest-quality devices available today, they could achieve an efficiency of roughly 29 percent; ultimately, they predict, perovskite-silicon tandems could surpass 35 percent efficiency.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less