Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Limitations of solar

Associate Professor Attila Mozer points out that the materials used in solar cells can be impacted by their surrounding environments.

You have learned a lot about the types of solar cells and their uses, like any technology solar cells have their limitations as well.

*Associate Professor Attila Mozer points out that the materials used in solar cells can be impacted by their surrounding environments

Solar Cells and the Environment

Common technologies like silicon tend to be limited at higher temperature because the conductivity of the material is actually decreasing. Some of the new technologies that we are developing, they actually get better when the solar cell is at higher temperature. This is all related to the properties of transporting the electrons out of the cell.


Electrical energy generated by solar cells is Direct Current (DC), and even though many devices run on DC power, most houses are setup to run on Alternating Current (AC) as this is used in our transmission grids. AC results in smaller power losses over the long distances that exist between most of our homes and the plants which generate electricity today. In order to change power from DC to AC (or AC to DC) hardware is required, and leads to power losses itself.
Solar panels produce Direct Current (DC), yet most of our appliances are wired to run on Alternating Current (AC). The diagram below shows that DC is a constant delivery of current, whereas AC appears as a sine-wave, symmetrical positives and negatives that complete a full cycle.

Converting the Power

How do we convert the DC from our solar panels into AC that can be used to power our homes, cars and devices? We use a device called an inverter. Inverters do not generate power, they in fact have the opposite effect. 100% of the DC input is present at entry, but by the time the current has been inverted the output is lower than 100%. There are no lossless inverters. You have to pay the inversion price to convert DC to AC. Inverters can also be very expensive. We have attached some resources below about how a converter works.
Another issue for solar cell technology at present is the difficulty in gathering the resources required. As we are aiming for readily and commercially available materials.
All of the materials currently used are either hard to mine, or hard to find, or they require high temperature processing, and therefore, they are very expensive and costly.

What if there were an easy to manufacture, cheap material that could be made into solar cells?

© University of Wollongong, 2019
This article is from the free online

How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now