Dye based solar cells? Strange, right? Well, not really – dye based solar cell technology has been with us since it invention in 1988. As a matter of fact, by 1991 the first dye based solar cell, called dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC), or Gratzel cells in some circles, was produced.
Even more surprising is the fact that the groundbreaking concepts that give us this unique technology date back to the 60s, but since the birth of the technology as we know it today came about in the 80s, it is unanimously agreed that the dye-based solar cell is an eighties invention, with credit to earlier work generally mentioned in passing as a trivial footnote, if at all.
How Does It Work?
Yes, dye has a lot to do with it. In fact, it is the life-force behind the mysterious electricity generation powers attributed to these type of cells. In reality, a dye-sensitized solar cell technology is part of the thin film solar cells family, which most of us are familiar with. The funny thing about this technology is that the base concept was ‘stolen’ from mother nature. Photosynthesis, a process by which plants turn sunlight into energy is the basic idea behind the dye based solar cell technology. Just like chlorophyll absorbs sunlight in plants and turns it into energy, so does the photosensitive dye in these solar cells, except in this case, the energy is turned into electricity.
With most renewable technologies today, in the end, it all comes down to value for money proposition, with the standard being existing electricity generation sources. Fortunately, when it comes to price-to-performance ratio, dye-based solar cells have this in spades. This technology will even give electricity generated using non-renewable fossil fuel a run for its money, and few, if any, renewable energy technologies can top that, not even other solar cell technologies.
Some people believe that a technology’s capacity to be used in a broad range of scenarios is where the magic lies for any renewable energy source. So, for a technology that notoriously derives practicality from high intensity sunlight that is mostly available to people who live in the tropics, dye based solar cells offer truckloads of practicality. These solar cells even work with indirect sunlight, and will even keep producing more juice after clouds get in the way. You can hardly say the same for some of solar cell technologies you already know about, for instance, concentrated solar cell technology.
Dye based solar cells are ‘easy’ to manufacture. You might not have runaway success making a solar module using this technology in your backyard, but for a company setup to make these cells, it is practically a walk in the park. For one, the cells require a handful of items, and many of these are cheap, not to mention easy to put together to create this solar cell technology.
In all honesty, dye solar cells will not knock your socks off if you are crazy about the phenomenal oodles of juice your solar power system should provide. Dye-based solar cells have significantly lower conversion efficiencies, their amazing price-to-performance benefits notwithstanding. If it is all about power generation efficiency for you, then the use of dye based solar cells might be a hair-pulling experience for you. See, it’s understandable that some of you believe that low efficiency is not something renewable technology should ‘get away’ with, but this stand, while keeping you from using this ‘dumb’ technology, will have you digging deeper into your pocket.
The Future Of Dye Based Solar Cell Technology
As with most current renewable solar energy technologies, dye-sensitized solar cells have a ‘bright’ future ahead of them. Current technology can reach efficiency levels of up to 90%, which is flat out breath-taking. Unfortunately, bright sunlight makes dye based solar cells breakdown, eventually turning them into fancy decorations for your roof. So, obviously, the good folks who have dedicated themselves to improving this technology on your behalf, because you can’t find the time to do it yourself anymore, are working on ways to make the cells a better match for the harsh environment they are supposed to work in. Luckily, there is some ongoing progress in these quarters, so, better dye-based solar cells are on the way.
Efficiency is also an issue, naturally. This solar cell technology lags behind its counterparts when it comes to conversion efficiency, which even stands in the way of its large scale application. But experts are working overtime to improve the efficiency of these cells from all imaginable angles, and have so far managed to add a few percentage points to the efficiency levels of the first generations of this solar cell technology. Being the optimistic kind, the researchers strongly believe more can be done, and that, with time, a dye-based solar cell will just be as good as a silicon-based solar cell, if not better.