Study: 32% tandem cell solar still competitive at triple the price


As we’re in the midst of an evolution in solar panel technology with efficiencies pushing toward and past 20% for the masses – and on the cusp of a revolution – it is fitting to look forward at how these new technologies might find a path into the current, ultra-competitive marketplace.

Researchers from Arizona State University’s Fulton Schools of Engineering did this with a futuristic – but probable – 32% perovskite+silicon tandem solar module. The findings were published in the paper Techno-economic viability of silicon-based tandem photovoltaic modules in the United States.

The ASU group compared the potential pricing of this product to the projected market prices of the best-priced silicon modules in 2020 to determine if these newer, lower-production rate and higher-priced products could first compete and gain market share.

The paper notes: “…a large cost benefit will not necessarily be needed to prefer tandem systems over single-junction systems, because higher efficiencies bring additional perceived benefits such as reduced installation area. It is, however, necessary that the path leading to such a tandem be continuously profitable.”

Authors Zhengshan J. Yu ,  Joe V. Carpenter and  Zachary Holman determined that a perovskite+silicon tandem solar module – with a similar lifetime and long term productivity of standard silicon panels – could in fact compete in the most cost competitive U.S. residential market with a price as low as (roughly) US$0.69/W in 2020. A key factor used to determine this pricing viability is a broad balance of system analysis – noting that less roof space, less wiring, less labor, is needed to get the same output with higher wattage modules.

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This graph describes the windows in which these higher priced panels could fit. The left section, noted “Si”, is the standard projected solar panel pricing in 2020 – about US$0.23/W. The right section notes the “top cell” that will be added to the silicon module – in the form of a perovskite layer. For the 1.7 eV residential, 0.9 coupling example, an additional ~US$0.46/W is added (roughly US$42m-2 equals US$0.23/W).

The authors suggested that a mature technology, similarly to modern silicon modules, will be in the 0.9 coupling efficiency range (making use of 90% of the theoretical electricity generation potential). Additionally, the paper notes that 1.5 eV or 1.7 eV modules are most likely to be competitive in the market.

The paper goes deeper into how the various pricing levels were chosen (above), what potential technologies were viable, what the probable pricing levels in 2020 would be, how the balance of system would be affected by almost doubling the efficiency of the panel, and further.

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