Home LATEST NEWS The central role of photovoltaic science in the energy transition

The central role of photovoltaic science in the energy transition


To achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – as predicted by the Paris climate accord – the planet will need to install each year by 2030 four times more solar capacity than it does today, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The good news is that prices have dropped dramatically.

According to a report by scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in early 2022, the unit costs of solar have fallen by 85% between 2010 and 2019, and those of wind by 55%.

But it is probably the cheapest way mankind has found to produce electricity on a large scalesaid Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the main authors of the report.

Between soaring fossil fuel prices and fears over energy security caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the development of renewables has already begun.

According to a BloombergNEF report, global investment in solar projects rose 33% in the first half compared to a year ago, to $120 billion. In wind power, they increased by 16% to 84 billion dollars.

And Joe Biden’s climate plan slated to pass through the US Congress has bolstered that momentum, with $370 billion in public money in tax incentives aimed at cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. by 2030 (compared to 2005).

Joe Biden, who wears sunglasses, is in front of solar panels

The US Senate has passed Joe Biden’s grand plan on climate and health.

Photo: Reuters/BRIAN SNYDER

There is great potentialhe said.

Solar energy from 1839 to today

The photovoltaic effect – a process that produces electricity from solar radiation – was discovered in 1839 by French physicist Edmond Becquerel.

The first silicon-based cells were developed in the United States in the 1950s. But today the vast majority of solar panels are made in China.

According to’OUCHnew photovoltaic cells on the market are 20% more efficient at converting light into energy than they were just five years ago, thanks to new hybrid materials.

Among the innovations are the so-called panels thin film, cheaper than silicon cells. They can be printed on all types of support, using perovskite crystal inks, a material discovered in the 19th century by the Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski.

Two children near a solar panel in a refugee camp.

Solar energy is becoming less and less expensive, which could make it possible to supply particularly poor regions that are very sunny. Above, a camp for displaced people in Syria is powered by solar energy.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP/ABDULAZIZ KETAZ

According to experts, this discovery could revolutionize the sector by increasing the number of places where solar energy can be produced. Provided that this new generation of panels degrades less quickly than at present, and can last at least 20 years. What recent research seems to make possible.

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In the review Science in April, scientists reported that they had succeeded in making perovskite panels as efficient as silicon ones.

Another study published in Nature bets on semiconductors tandem to increase the energy conversion of the spectral range of solar radiation: perovskite for infrared and a more carbonaceous material for ultraviolet.

And the night?

It remains to solve the problem of the night, when there is no more solar radiation.

Stanford researchers succeeded this year in producing a solar cell that can generate energy at night using heat generated by the Earth.

There is a lot of creativity in this industrynotes Ron Schoff, who leads research on renewables at the Electrical Research Institute (EPRI) based in the United States.

According to him, one of the answers to the problem of increasing land use by solar farms will be based on bifacial panels: they produce electricity on both sides from sunlight and light reflected by floor.

Other solutions bet on agrivoltaism, semi-transparent panels housing crops. In India, panels have been installed on canals for a decade, generating electricity and reducing evaporation.

According to Mr. Nemet, consumers can also play a role by changing their hours of consumption or by grouping together in private networks in an Airbnb approach.

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