Newsletter: A bubbly bet on breakthrough solar tech

How quickly will a new technology revolutionize the solar industry?
By Julian Spector

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How quickly will a new technology revolutionize the solar industry?

That’s what Eric Wesoff tackles in a new story about tandem cells, which basically stick two different solar materials together to generate more power than conventional panels.

  • High-quality solar modules on the market today have efficiencies of 21 percent to 22 percent. Commercial crystalline silicon is forecast to reach efficiencies of 22 percent to 24 percent by the end of the decade, possibly higher.
  • Tandem module efficiency could reach 30 percent by combining materials that absorb different ranges of the wavelength of sunlight.
  • Solar panels with higher efficiencies mean greater electricity production, less land use and lower costs for zero-emission power.

The problem is that new solar technologies have to face the juggernaut of conventional, mass-produced solar panels. Financiers are comfortable with today’s technology but hesitant to back new, exotic things, even if they could be more productive.

Eric could have filed his story and gone off to practice the harmonica, but he chose to put some skin in the game. Frank van Mierlo, CEO of tandem solar company CubicPV, asserted that 2 gigawatts of tandem solar will be sold worldwide by the end of next year.

Eric took that wager. Now a bottle of fine Champagne hangs in the balance — not to mention the long-term efficacy of solar technology.

Another challenge for solar materials: Biden trade sanctions

President Biden is pushing back on China’s alleged forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in a way that has ripple effects for the solar industry.

The White House placed restrictions on imports from Xinjiang-based silicon metal producer Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., Ltd., which supplies polysilicon makers tied to some of the biggest names in solar, Emma Foehringer Merchant reports.

Beginning immediately, importers of solar modules will have to prove to U.S. Customs and Border Protection that shipments do not include silicon manufactured by Hoshine — a potentially difficult task due to the opacity of the polysilicon supply chain.

It looks like the U.S. solar industry isn’t particularly dependent on materials from Hoshine. But the supply chain for Chinese silicon is not very transparent. And silicon from different suppliers typically gets blended together before it winds up in solar cells.

This will be an ongoing story, but it keeps the pressure on the clean energy industry to pay attention to its supply chain and diversify the sources from which it procures key materials.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.