Perovskite solar cells were a novelty in 2009, 3.5% efficient for a few minutes before they decayed. Eight years later they are 22% efficient and while the only Amazon results for ‘Perovskite’ are chemistry text books, reports indicate cells based on this technology may become commercially available this year.
The Wiki is a bit dizzying for a non-chemist. The solar cells we know today are semiconductor products, like large computer chips. They require precise manufacturing techniques at high temperatures and pressures, similar to chip foundry techniques. Perovskite cells are created with organic solutions that are much easier to handle, in some cases apparently being created with ink jet printing techniques.
Olduvai Theory is the idea that an industrial civilization in this biosphere is a single pulse transient; we get a century of 24×7 light, heating, and cooling, then we start sliding back towards an 18th century lifestyle … if we’re lucky. Given that electricity is a matter of alnico magnets, copper wire, and something that spins, we’ve been able to generate electricity at varying scales since the 1930s. I’m not sure I agree with the rapidity of decline the theory proposes.
South Africa’s load shedding is a model for what a developed nation under stress might do. When you need 24 gigawatts but can only deliver 20, large areas go dark for two hour windows. Imagine how different things would be if domestically produced solar cells lined every roof. There might be blackouts in the evening, but daytime activity would remain more or less normal. That’s not what we have in 21st century America, but I think it’s much nicer than America in the 1700s. Hospitals, libraries, food storage facilities and other community resources could likely maintain 24×7 service by policy, or by owning generators. Call these ubiquitous solar cells distributed generation.
Humans are more active during daylight hours, and we’d do better health wise if we got away from our 24×7 lifestyle and bluish fluorescent lights after sundown. Solar matches both this need and the curve for when we need cooling the most. Call this timely generation.
Hydroelectric power obviously requires water, but so does utility scale generation using coal, oil, or natural gas. The largest generator I’ve ever seen that relied on a radiator was in the two megawatt range and the operator told me that chillers were required for anything much bigger. Solar cell plants may produce heat islands, but they require no cooling. Call this dry generation.
Any place that has distributed, timely, dry generation is much better equipped for a rapidly warming world. Let’s add an additional requirement – local manufacturing. When a new operating system is being created it is an important milestone when it becomes ‘self hosting’ – which means that the current generation was built entirely using the prior generation.
Silicon photovoltaics are like making computer chips – the province of the U.S., Europe, and the big three economies in Asia. South Africa has chip manufacturing but it’s dependent on outsiders. If they could master perovskite solar cell manufacturing that would be a huge step towards energy independence.
I don’t find a lot of good news. The potential of this dramatically cheaper dry generation method actually has me a little bit hopeful.