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Saudi lab plans for $10bn market in tandem solar cells

Saudi Arabia is evaluating 1,200 sites to find the best ones for renewable projects Reuters/Faisal al Nasser
Despite renewable projects such as the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, Saudi is still heavily oil-reliant and Fitch expects a budget deficit of 2.3 percent of GDP in 2024
  • Research into perovskite-silicon cells
  • Tandem cells could be more affordable
  • Kaust scientists ‘at forefront of revolution’

Scientists in Saudi Arabia are working on tandem solar cells, a development that they say could become a $10 billion market.

Professor Stefaan De Wolf and the Photovoltaics Laboratory at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) have published a paper setting out how the perovskite-silicon cells can be brought to market.

The technology seeks to combine perovskite’s efficient light absorption and silicon’s long-term stability to achieve greater efficiency and potentially lower costs. 

The global photovoltaics market is dominated by crystalline silicon solar cells. Their production capacity has grown by more than 20 percent a year over a number of years.

In 2023, De Wolf’s laboratory reported two world records for power conversion efficiency, showing the rapid progress in perovskite-silicon tandem technology.  

The laboratory’s paper outlines the key challenges and proposed solutions for the commercialisation of the cells.

“The market for perovskite-silicon tandems is expected to exceed $10 billion within a decade,” De Wolf said. “Kaust is at the forefront of this revolution, laying the groundwork for affordable, accessible clean energy for all.” 

However, he added that predicting when the cells will be ready to come to market “remains challenging”.

Companies in the United States, China, UK, Korea, Japan and Europe have announced investments totalling more than $100 million, though little information has been released about their pilot projects. 

Saudi Arabia and the World Economic Forum’s innovation platform UpLink have signed two agreements to support entrepreneurs looking for solutions to problems such as ocean degradation, biodiversity loss and the circular carbon economy.

The kingdom has 13 renewable energy projects under development with a collective capacity of 11.3 gigawatts, according to S&P Global.

The Saudi Green Initiative Forum said in December that the kingdom has connected an additional 2.1GW of renewable energy to the grid since 2022. Saudi Arabia’s production capacity of renewable energy is said to have reached 8GW by the end of 2023.

The Kaust report suggests geographical testing to optimise the performance of tandem cells for specific locations.  

It also proposes improvements to current manufacturing processes, which involve high material costs and potentially dangerous chemicals. 

Saudi Arabia is evaluating 1,200 sites to identify the best ones for renewable energy initiatives, energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in December.

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