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Photovoltaic cells

solar cells

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Is it going to become cheaper?

This is what the majority of PV research is about. We know the technology works but we need to get more bang for the buck. That is to say, we need ways to get more electricity for every dollar spent.

Scientists are trying to do this in two ways:

First, reduce the cost of building the cells. PV cells are made out of expensive materials like silicon, so the less silicon used the cheaper the cell. As more and more cells are built, manufacturers are learning better, cheaper ways to construct them.

The original PV cells that were built on silicon 'wafers' are called first generation PV cells. Newer, cheaper second generation cells are built from thin silicon 'films'.

Second, make PV cells produce more electricity. New technology is constantly being researched for cells to convert more energy from sunlight into electricity. PV cells that use newer, more effective technology are called third generation PV cells. The hope is to improve the efficiency of cells from about 20 per cent (for first and second generation) to around 60 per cent.

The final way that PV technology becomes cheaper is through government subsidies. Governments support PV research because it creates high tech jobs in a very fast growing industry that makes clean, sustainable energy.

When will these technologies make PV electricity competitive?

Over the next 20 years PV technology is going to get much cheaper. First generation cells will have lower production costs. Cheaper second generation cells will become more available and third generation technology will mean that all the cells will be more effective.

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