An international team of researchers led by The University of Manchester have for the very first time reported experimental observation of a key, fundamental material defect which limits and degrades the efficiency of silicon solar cells when they are exposed to sunlight. The effect, known as light induced degradation (LID), has been studied for over 40 years, with over 1000 research papers referring to it, with no known solution. The environmental and financial impact of this solar panel ‘efficiency degradation’ is significant. During the first hours of operation, after installation, a solar panel’s efficiency drops from 20% to about 18% (an absolute drop of 2% ), which is a significant loss of global electricity generating capacity.
The energy cost of this shortfall across the world’s installed solar capacity measures in the 10’s of gigawatts, equivalent to more energy than is produced by the UK’s combined total of 15 nuclear power plants. The solar shortfall has therefore to be met by other, less sustainable energy sources such as burning fossil fuels.