Cheaper solar power

A national team of scientists are embarking on one of the UK’s largest ever research projects into photovoltaic solar energy.


A national team of scientists led by experts at Durham University are embarking on one of the UK’s largest ever research projects into photovoltaic (PV) solar energy.


The £6.3m PV-21 programme will focus on making thin-film light absorbing cells for solar panels from sustainable and affordable materials.


The four-year project, which begins in April 2008, is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the SUPERGEN initiative.


Eight UK universities, led by Durham and including Bangor, Bath, Cranfield, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Northumbria and Southampton, are involved in the project.


They will work together with nine industrial partners towards a ‘medium to long-term goal’ of making solar energy more competitive and sustainable.


At present solar cells are made from key components such as the rare and expensive metal indium which costs approximately £320 per kilogram.


‘At present you would need tens of tonnes of very rare and expensive materials for large scale production of solar cells to produce sizeable amounts of power,’ said principal investigator Prof Ken Durose, in the Department of Physics, at Durham University


‘Some of the materials currently used may not be sustainable in 20 years time which is why we have to conduct research into alternative materials that are cheaper to buy and more sustainable. We are also leading the way in making ultra-thin solar cells that need less material,’ he added.


The latest funding follows an initial four-year research project by PV-21 focusing on the development of thin-layer PV cells using compound semiconductors based on cadmium telluride and chalcopyrite.