Solar energy is undoubtedly one of the cleanest forms of renewable energy generation. However, despite its environmental benefits, there are certain drawbacks to generating renewable energy using solar cells, with the primary drawback being its high price. Solar panels cost most because they make use of expensive semiconductor materials such as silicon and cadmium. To reduce the cost of solar cells, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California Berkeley have demonstrated technology, with which the team can convert any semiconductor into solar cells. The technology is now opening the doors for manufacturers to make solar cells from comparatively cheaper semiconductors such as metal oxides, sulfides and phosphides.
The semiconductor material inside solar cells absorbs photons and release electrons that can be channeled to produce a regular electric current. While semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect are made to complete the process, they are really expensive, which drives the cost of solar energy much higher than conventionally generated electricity. The research team has come up with a new technology, called Screening Engineered Field Effect Photovoltaics or SFPV, using which a carefully designed partially screening top electrode lets the electric field penetrate the electrode and hence modulates the semiconductor carrier concentration to induce a p-n junction.
The research team demonstrated the SFPV effect in a self-gating configuration, in which the gate was powered internally by electrical activity of the cell itself. Apart from being making solar cells cost-effective, solar cells made using the same technology also do well on the efficiency scale, which means you don’t have to increase the number of solar panels to generate the same amount of power.