Episode 205: What’s the difference between first and second generation solar cells?
Have you heard that the cost of solar energy is decreasing and wondered why? On this week’s Energy Bite, Lisa Porter, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.
- April 25,1954: Bell Labs Demonstrates the First Practical Silicon Solar Cell – American Physical Society
- Soft Costs 101: The Key to Achieving Cheaper Solar Energy – Department of Energy
- Video – Thin-Film Solar Cell Manufacturing – Department of Energy
HOST: Have you heard that the cost of solar energy is decreasing and wondered why? On this week’s Energy Bite, Lisa Porter, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.
LISA: Humans have been using solar energy from the beginning of time, and serious research began in the late 1800’s and included the work of famous physicists like Einstein. In the 1950’s, a key breakthrough occurred at Bell Labs when the first practical solar cells based on semiconductors were developed. In the past decade, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the cost of solar cells, making this technology more affordable.
HOST: How did this occur?
LISA: Mostly through things other than the solar cells themselves: things like installation or inverters that convert the DC electricity generated by the cells into AC electricity. The cost of solar cells may go down too. Most solar panels on homes are called first generation solar cells. They use sheets of the semiconductor silicon to convert solar rays into electricity. Newer thin-film second generation solar cells use semiconductor materials that are around one micron thick. In contrast, human hair is about 50 microns thick. These cells use less material because they contain semiconductor materials that absorb sunlight more efficiently; less material translates to lower cost.
HOST: Would you consider putting solar panels on your home if the cost were low? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.