Competition is heating up in the race to develop a new class of solar panels that could deliver efficient solar energy in greater quantities and at lower costs.
Bloomberg reports that solar energy companies and university researchers are approaching a commercially viable panel comprised of perovskites — a class of minerals with a crystal structure that surfaced as an alternative to silicon in solar cells more than a decade ago.
In laboratory settings, scientists showed that perovskite cells could convert sunlight into energy nearly as efficiently as silicon. Much more work will be needed to generate that efficiency in practice, and skeptics cautioned that perovskites remain too unstable for use in commercial panels.
Bloomberg, however, noted that hundreds of research papers relating to perovskites are published each year, and that if a more stable structure is developed, the material could be incorporated into a liquid and applied to virtually any surface — including buildings and vehicles.
Proponents said that capability, combined with its lower cost, could bring significant upheaval to the world's $42 billion solar industry.
“This is the front-runner of low-cost solar cell technologies,” University of Tokyo professor Hiroshi Segawa told Bloomberg.
A firm in the U.K., meanwhile, reportedly plans to begin selling a thin perovskite cell by the end of next year.