No one is asking the Department of Energy to play venture capitalist with taxpayer money again, but basic research in dye-sensitized solar cells may bring the cost of solar down enough to allow for mainstream acceptance - primarily because dye-sensitized solar cells (also known as DSCs) are less fragile than panels that use crystalline silicon, also a benefit of thin-film panels, and don't require a clean room.
Solar power is an essential part of the future green energy mix, but adoption has been limited where government subsidies are not in place (a home in California put in a $160,000 installation, for example, and then got $80,000 in rebates - not everyone is going to have $160,000 to spend up-front on a solar system) and poorer buildings are often the biggest energy wasters. For the non-1% who can take advantage of solar power rebates, a future in which people draw solar-generated power from remote places in sunny climes is ideal. Photovoltaic solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon are commonly used now and they are mature technology, hailing from the early satellite days of the 1950s and 1960s, but they are limited structurally, which is a detriment in earthquake states like California.
Dye-sensitized solar cells conquer the structural concern and its method is well understood. In a DSC, sunlight hits a layer of titanium dioxide and displaces electrons from dye molecules in a layer beneath the coating, generating a flow of electrons and producing a current.
Silicon is also well understood, and now cheap, but a new paper suggests that despite silicon technology being entrenched, DSCs could displace it due to lower cost and being easier to manufacture. However, the lower efficiency of DSCs remains an issue and titanium dioxide has been classified as an as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.(1)
Efficiency of solar power is also misunderstood (and therefore not as crushing an issue as detractors make it out to be) so if the business model works and DSCs can be implemented without the US government spending $22 billion per year to keep them afloat, it might be the solar Nirvana we keep hoping for.
Moon et al., "Forecasting a change in technology: Are Dye-sensitised Solar Cells a source of ubiquitous energy?" in Int. J. Technology, Policy and Management, 2012, 12, 177-194
(1) CFLs also require a Haz-Mat team if you break one and the government is providing all kinds of subsidies for them (and even outlawing safe traditional bulbs) and TreeHugger gushes over CFLs, so a way to handle titanium dioxide is a technology issue, not a science one.
The Research Case For Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells
By Hank Campbell | July 23rd 2012 11:00 AM | Print | E-mail
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