• Question: With regard to the dye sensitised cells, how cost-efficient would they be if used on a similar scale to the regular solar panels? Also, how does their efficiency in absorbing light energy compare to the ordinary solar cells? :)

    Asked by jammiedodger to Indi, Jarv, John, Ken, Vicky on 20 Mar 2012.
    • Photo: Jarvist Moore Frost

      Jarvist Moore Frost answered on 20 Mar 2012:

      These are indeed very important questions. It’s difficult to know exactly how much things will cost on the large scale until they are, in fact, being built on the large scale!

      One of the current issues with Dye cells is that if you have a liquid electrolyte, it tends to escape or evaporate, which makes the lifetime not very good. There are also issues with the dyes getting bleached by the sun (we need to find dyes that are both very good absorbers of light and good producers of electricity, but also very chemical stable and resistant to degradation). Both these issues can be sort of fixed by encapsulating the devices in extra protective barriers, but then if your protective barriers start costing more than the devices, you may as well just use silicon!
      You can make dye cells with a solid electrolyte, but then the efficiency is not so good.

      We hope that with new, better, materials (which is what my work is directed towards) we’ll be able to solve all these issues together & leap-frog the cost and utility of silicon cells.

      The best dye cells made in a laboratory have around a 10-11% efficiency. This compares to commercially available silicon solar cell modules that have a 10-15% efficiency. Modules (i.e. big panels) of dye cells have much lower efficiencies, perhaps 5%. So it’s very much a technology that’s designed to be cheap & cover a large area, if being less efficient per metre-squared.

      It’s very difficult to say for certain whether Dye cells will ever be cost competitive on a large scale. Currently silicon cells are getting cheaper far quicker than anyone predicted (though there are suggestions that some countries are purposefully selling them for less than they cost to make to grab the market!).

      Certainly I won’t be upset if Dye or Organic solar cells are never made on a large scale because the silicon ones become so cheap that we may as well use them everywhere.

      It wouldn’t be that Dye cells lost, it would be that silicon cells (and the scientists & engineers working on them) have won for all of us.

    • Photo: John Prytherch

      John Prytherch answered on 20 Mar 2012:

      Nice answer Jarvist, very interesting.

    • Photo: Vicky Young

      Vicky Young answered on 20 Mar 2012:

      This is cool (: