Photovoltaic solar panels have been in use since the 1990s, creating renewable energy for both stand-alone installations and feeding back into the grid. One of the biggest arguments for transitioning from fossil fuels to solar power is environmental; once installed, solar panels generate zero greenhouse gases, cause no pollution, and do not use any resources apart from sunlight, which is constantly being replenished and will never run out.

However, there are still arguments against the widespread use of solar panels, most of which revolve around cost. Dr Franky So and Duncan Clark, NextGen Nano’s Director of Operations, are part of a team which has been developing a new technology that could change the conversation about solar photovoltaics for good.

The PDF attachment looks at how solar panels work.

Silicon and Polysilicon

At present, almost all photovoltaic solar panels are constructed of some form of silicon, including monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon. Mono-Si offers the highest levels of efficiency but is also the most expensive to produce, and the panels will not work properly if they are even partially blocked from the sun, such as when they get dirty. P-Si is less efficient but cheaper to produce and has a slightly lower tolerance to heat. They are also less space-efficient that their mono-Si relatives.

Thin Solar Panels

Thin solar panels such as those with CIS/CIGS solar cells have shown a greater efficiency potential in the early stages of research and development. However, the materials used to develop thin film solar panels degrade much faster than silicon, which can quickly off-set the potential cost benefits.

Production Costs

While much of the solar industry points to the cost-efficiency of materials in the production of p-SI solar panels, the cost of these materials accounts for less than half of the full cost. Factors such as maintenance, installation, operation and insurance can add significantly to the full cost of solar panels.

The embedded infographic looks at the falling production costs of renewable energy.

Nextgen Nano Technology

Nextgen Nano is developing what could become the future of solar technology. The company has developed a technology which replaces silicon with lightweight organic polymers. These PolyPower solar cells have the potential to be more efficient than any other solar technology currently on the market, making solar panels that are both semi-transparent and flexible.

Photovoltaics are combined with organic semiconductors to create more efficient and cost-effective solar panels. In the past few years, the efficiency of polymer solar cells has seen significant increases, with power conversion efficiency rising from 10% to 17%. To compare, mono-Si panels, which currently have the highest efficiency, typically operate somewhere between 15% and 20%. The use of nanotechnology in production is likely to reduce the costs of manufacturing solar panels and other related equipment.

Transforming Energy Applications

PolyPower technology from Nextgen Nano has the potential to transform a variety of energy applications and decentralise many. One example would be additional energy for electric vehicles. PolyPower cells fitted to the vehicles could meaningfully increase range. Panels fitted to the car itself could result in a constant, renewable source of power for charging the car. There is further potential for the technology to be applied in areas such as commercial building glazing,  wearables, military hardware and electronics. In environmental terms, replacing electricity from the grid with photovoltaics could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 89%.

An introduction to Nextgen Nano can be seen in the short video attachment to this post.