Graphene solar cells to change global energy balance, sourcing.
In our analysis of March 11, 2012 on graphene (Graphene patents) we reported that graphene patent filings are following the same profile as silicon patent filings in the years preceding the broad scale adoption of computers. Here we are conducting in-depth research on graphene solar power as a graphene application.
New research on solar cells points out to the potential for a fundamental change in our global energy budget that may lead to the decentralization of energy production. EROI and his brother-in-law LEC are to blame.
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The commercial efficiency of our current silicon photovoltaic power cells is between 19 and 21%. To solar cell manufacturers, increasing the efficiency of solar cells by 1% is a huge point of difference in the marketplace (all things being equal). But what if we could make graphene solar cells 60% efficient?
EROI (Energy Return On Investment) is the proverbial piper of the energy world, and he accepts only payments in kilojoules. In the word of energy, EROI is the telltale ratio between the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy source to the amount of energy expended to obtain that same energy resource: the net energy from exploiting a particular resource. When solar cells were invented, their EROI was approximately 1, which put them at the bottom of the renewable energy food chain, in the same class as biodiesel and ethanol. But the EROI of solar modules has increased steadily as new cell types and manufacturing have made solar cells more efficient. Figure 1 shows EROI values for different sources of energy, including graphene solar cells which new research points to a potential EROI of 20.4, which for the first time in history puts solar power on the same footing as crude oil imports’ EROI (12.5). Incidentally, oil has been a dominating source of energy since the late 1800s because of its EROI.
But a favourable EROI is a not a sufficient condition for the widespread of a technology to provide mass electricity. For this we need to compare LEC (Levelised Energy Cost), which is the price at which electricity must be generated from a specific source to break even over the lifetime of the project. Utilities, government use LEC measurements all the time to enter into power purchase agreements with power generators. The current levelised cost of generating power using silicon cells is roughly $0.17/kWh. Therefore, assuming that the cost of manufacturing graphene cells is identical to that of silicon cells, we are then looking at producing solar power at roughly at $0.06/kWh, on par with coal power and provide power cheap the world over, especially in island economies or in Africa where the infrastructure does not permit to have centralized power plants.
According to recent research, graphene solar cells are in the near future. Recent research published in February 2013 (Nature Physics) shows that graphene is quite efficient at turning photons into electricity rather than heat and a little bit of electricity. In April 2012, a group for scientists from Portugal filed patent for the manufacturing of graphene solar cells with the World Intellectual Property Office. These are only two examples of groups pushing for graphene solar cells. At the same time there is significant research on improving the current silicon-based solar cells.
We should take comfort that several groups of researchers are working concomitantly. In the world of science, these are good news.
The cost of using diesel generators, a typical approach in energy islands and Africa, is roughly $0.30/kWh where the cost of power is a roadblock for agriculture, desalination and manufacturing. Whoever will develop the right solar cell will make a huge change to the global economy.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>