Solar has become something of a poster child for alternative, renewable energy in recent years, and plenty of progress seems likely in the near future. From large solar farms that use thousands of panels to turn previously barren patches of desert into productive power generation sites, to the rooftop setups that now grace so many homes, solar is both flexible and effective. While costs have dropped to the point that even solar equipment which is not subsidized sometimes beats out other forms of power generation, further improvements would certainly be welcome. One interesting new possibility could result in what might be the biggest drop in solar panel costs in quite some time.
As those who read it here will see, what makes this approach seem so interesting is that it aims at a truly fundamental and longstanding issue with solar power generation. Ever since the first photovoltaic cells were invented, designers have made use of fairly exotic and rare materials in order to convert sunlight into electricity. With some of the substances, like the metal ruthenium, being of kinds that the average person will not likely even have heard of, significant costs have remained in place and without much reduction for many years.
Researchers are now, however, exploring ways of doing away with such expense-inflating dependencies. One of the most promising seeming approaches at the moment would see rare, exotic materials like ruthenium, in fact, replaced with one of the commonest metals of all. If the scientists working on the project succeed, this could mean that iron could be used in the place of materials that cost many times as much.
Even in the best case scenario, it remains likely that supplementary materials like titanium dioxide could still be needed to enable the production of panels based on this new design. Still, a real breakthrough could cause solar panel costs to drop significantly and almost overnight, making solar power generation even more economically attractive. While there are still plenty of advances that could be made in the field, being able to reduce production prices so quickly would undoubtedly be a huge boon. That would likely make an already successful renewable energy source even more so.