Starting with higher-value niche markets and then expanding might help perovskite-based solar panels compete with silicone.

Materials called perovskites to show strong potential for a new generation of solar cells, but they have had troubles gaining traction in a market dominated by silicon-based solar cells. Now, a report by researchers at MIT and elsewhere provides a roadmap on how this promising

the technology could travel from the laboratory to a significant position on the global solar market.

The “techno-economic” analysis shows that beginning with higher-value niche markets and slowly expanding manufacturers of solar panels could escape the very steep initial capital costs that would be needed at the outset to make panels based on perovskite directly competitive with silicone for large utility-scale installations.

Instead of making a prohibitively expensive initial investment of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to built a utility-scale production facility, the team found that a more practical initial investment of $40 million might start with more specialized applications.

The findings are presented by MIT postdoc Ian Mathews, research scientist Marius Peters, mechanical engineering professor Tonio Buonassisi, and five others at MIT, Wellesley College, and Swift Solar Inc., in a paper in the journal Joule.

Solar cells based on a perovskites-a broad group of compounds distinguished by a certain arrangement of their molecular structure-may bring about dramatic improvements in solar systems. Their constituent materials are inexpensive and in a roll-to-roll process such as printing a newspaper, they could be processed and printed on lightweight, durable background material. This could significantly reduce transportation and construction costs although they still require additional work to improve their durability. Many promising new materials for solar cells are also under production in laboratories around the world, but none have yet made commercial inroads.

“Over the years, a lot of new solar cell technologies and companies have been introduced”, says Mathews,” and yet, despite that, silicon remains the dominant material in the industry and has been in the industry for decades.”

Why is this so? “People have always said one of the things that hold back new technologies is that it’s just too much to build large factories to produce such systems on a scale,” he says.”It’s hard for a startup to cross what’s called the ‘valley of death,’ to lift the tens of millions of dollars it takes to reach the stage where this technology could be competitive for the broader solar energy sector.”

But there are several more specialized applications for solar cells where the unique qualities of perovskite-based solar cells, such as their lightweight, durability and transparency potential, would provide a significant advantage, says Mathews.

Originally focused on these markets, a startup solar company might gradually build up to scale, using the luxury products’ revenues over time to broaden its production capabilities.

Describing the literature on solar cells based on perovskite that is being developed in various laboratories, he says,” They claim very low costs. But, once your factory reaches a certain scale, they claim that. And I thought we’ve seen it before-people say that new photovoltaic material will be cheaper than the rest and better than the rest. That’s fine, but we need to have a strategy on how to scale up the material and the technology.”

He says as a starting point,” We’ve taken the approach that I haven’t seen anyone else take: let’s just model the cost of producing these modules as a scale feature. So if you’ve got 10 people in a small factory, how much do you need to sell your solar panels to make a profit? And how cheap will your product become once you hit scale?”

The study concluded that attempting to leap directly into the marketplace for solar rooftop or utility-scale solar installations would require a very large upfront investment in resources, he says. But “we looked at the prices that customers might get on the Internet of things or the photovoltaics built-in markets. Consumers in these markets usually pay a higher price, because they are more of a specialized product. If your product is flexible or if the module fits into a building envelope, they will pay a little more.”Other potential niche markets include self-powered microelectronics.

Source – here