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Materials Availability Expands The Opportunity For Large-scale Photovoltaics Deployment.

Cyrus Wadia, A. Alivisatos, D. Kammen
Published 2009 · Engineering, Medicine

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Solar photovoltaics have great promise for a low-carbon future but remain expensive relative to other technologies. Greatly increased penetration of photovoltaics into global energy markets requires an expansion in attention from designs of high-performance to those that can deliver significantly lower cost per kilowatt-hour. To evaluate a new set of technical and economic performance targets, we examine material extraction costs and supply constraints for 23 promising semiconducting materials. Twelve composite materials systems were found to have the capacity to meet or exceed the annual worldwide electricity consumption of 17,000 TWh, of which nine have the potential for a significant cost reduction over crystalline silicon. We identify a large material extraction cost (cents/watt) gap between leading thin film materials and a number of unconventional solar cell candidates including FeS2, CuO, and Zn3P2. We find that devices performing below 10% power conversion efficiencies deliverthe same lifetime energy output as those above 20% when a 3/4 material reduction is achieved. Here, we develop a roadmap emphasizing low-cost alternatives that could become a dominant new approach for photovoltaics research and deployment.
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