The researchers at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are trying to bring back, and refine, a solar cell technique from the 50-60s to help make the same solar cells as are on NASA’s Mars rovers.
The technique makes solar cells from gallium arsenide that are already hitting 25.3% efficiency.
David Young, a senior scientist with expertise in silicon solar cells who joined NREL in 2000, says:
You can only buy gallium arsenide cells if you’re willing to pay $100-300 a watt
NREL wants to bring that number down to 20-80¢/W.
When compared to solar cells today, this product has a long way to go. The engineers, at $300/W, are aiming for early adopters – these are way early adopters. Bus companies, or the US Army using solar powered backpacks – or maybe drone operators and private boat owners.
If you can get to $100 a watt or $70 a watt, there are large initial markets that you can open up at that price point in order to get your foot in the door, to start scaling up your manufacturing, and get your costs down to $1 a watt or 50 cents a watt.
Aim high NREL!