Working toward a more inexpensive and widespread use of solar energy

"The use of solar energy is increasing rapidly, and by 2050, the share of solar electricity may even represent one fourth of all the electricity used worldwide," predicts Professor Peter Lund of Aalto University. Solar energy is gaining in popularity primarily due to the improved efficiency and reduced cost of solar cells. Within the Academy of Finland's Sustainable Energy Research Programme, Lund's research team is working on developing third generation solar cells. The aim is to produce large-scale solutions for the utilisation of renewable energy.

"The motivation for the research is the idea that the majority of our could, in the future, be provided by , such as solar and wind power. In order to realise this ideal, we need that is suitable for industrial mass production and improvements in the that would facilitate diversified and flexible energy production," says Peter Lund.

Third generation solar cells are so-called dye-sensitized solar cells that emulate natural photosynthesis. The advantage of these cells is that the basic materials used in them are readily available and the cells are simple to build. Furthermore, the materials and production methods are inexpensive. In 2010, Michael Gr├Ątzel was awarded the Millennium for the invention of the dye-sensitized solar cell.

"The dye-sensitized solar cell is a very promising product and, in a laboratory environment, it has been shown to produce an efficiency rate of more than 10 per cent. There are, however, still many questions that need answering before this product is ready for mass production," states Lund. The current areas of study include the materials to be used, different nanostructures and solid-state electrolytes. Researchers are also looking to clarify the mechanisms that weaken the efficiency of the cell over time.

Flexible bonded to plastic or metal, the type that the Lund group is currently researching, would appear to be most suitable for mass production. "We have been pioneers in, among other areas, the utilisation of carbon nanostructures. We are able to build a permanent cell on metal foil or plastic with an efficiency of more than 6 per cent. This result is truly exceptional." The use of carbon nanostructures in the cell will eliminate the need for any catalysts made from precious metals. Inexpensive metals are vulnerable to corrosion and they often are characterised by a low charge transfer capacity, in other words, poor efficiency.

Re-evaluation of the overall energy system

An essential aspect of the utilisation of sources is a functional energy system. According to Lund, the emphasis for innovations in the future will be on how the energy system can be controlled in a situation in which we are taking advantage of large amounts of fluctuating renewable-source electricity production.

"We've managed to find solutions that will enable us to double or even triple the current top maximum usage of solar and wind power. This would require an overall reform of our current energy system. By combining heating, air conditioning and transportation, we get a better overall picture of the energy system," explains Lund.

"By integrating the production of electricity and heat, we might be able to produce nearly 75 per cent of, for example, Helsinki's electricity needs using wind power. This would work if we clearly oversize our capacity so much so that it might be sufficient even in calm weather. Peak output resulting from storm winds could be directed as heat into our district heating network."

The researchers are involved in close international cooperation on these issues. Lund's research team is contributing, for example, to the brainstorming process concerning how to convert Shanghai and Mumbai into cities. An extensive Finnish-Chilean study is being launched on the same theme in Chile. This study is being partly funded by the Academy of Finland.

Explore further

Dye-sensitized solar cells with carbon nanotube transparent electrodes offer significant cost savings

Provided by Academy of Finland
Citation: Working toward a more inexpensive and widespread use of solar energy (2013, April 25) retrieved 19 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 25, 2013
oil was inexpensive once, but demand drove the prices higher. If a company makes a product, an introductory price is tested in the market, regardless of production costs. The price will go up when demand increases, but even if demand ceases to exist, the price should drop. If no one is using the expensive solar cells, why does the price not drop? Greed. tesla wanted to provide energy to the masses, but the greed of large corporations quashed his efforts and killed his research. Do not think our powers that be will ever let us use cheaper energy, as that would reduce taxes that pay for their raises. the fact that the gov't is not allowed to have profits from a business or company is ridiculous and keeps us chained. We could make them work for us, society at large, and pay less taxes and less for energy if they were made by voters to be accountable for their actions. oust all of the uncooperative politicians, favor the ones who want change in the publics favor.

Apr 25, 2013
The price of oil will come down when supply outstrips demand and the costs of production decline.

The price of solar is coming down as the costs come down.

Energy prices are very elastic. The lower the costs of energy the higher the demand. The higher the costs of energy the lower the demand. Want more demand? Lower energy costs. Want even more demand? Lower energy costs further... That's what's happening now with natural gas. There's a tidal wave of demand coming to natural gas because of unusually low prices.

A new tidal wave of demand will come to solar power when it breaks through to being even cheaper than coal or natural gas based electricity. Solar power generation currently is growing at about 30% annually.

Apr 25, 2013
Hopper, I ranked you a two because you seem to forget that supply is controlled, and limited. Near term I think your right that supply and demand controls the price mostly. In the future as supply runs out, the electric grid looks more and more promising.

Apr 26, 2013
Energy is a very tricky business. As howhot said the rules pf perfect competition on demand and offer don't work here, because there isn't a perfect competition scenario and also energy is not what economist would call a normal good, perfectly elastic.

What we should be concerned with in this fossil vs renewable energy debate is system efficiency. One way to compare this is in monetary values, like price of kwh from coal vs gas vs solar vs wind vs etc, but the problem is that because of all the government subsidies (some direct, other indirect) it is almost impossible to determine the real cost...

Another way might be to try to compare systems ( from extraction/production to conversion ) in terms of efficiency. How much energy did i invest to get 1 mwh for example. Based on these results we can start adding carbon adjustments to each system in order to weight environmental impact.

Apr 26, 2013
For example coal might have a better efficiency than solar but if we put a x cap of Co2 emissions per mhw, coal might suffer supplemental costs and then solar might be cheaper.

I've been looking for articles that tackle this approach but I haven't found so far. Most are just biased because they include subsidies, which is nothing more than an indirect way that we pay the bill.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more