New solar cell design to make solar energy affordable to all

A collaboration between Power Roll Limited and scientists at the University of Sheffield has proven an innovative new solar-cell design which will make solar energy dramatically cheaper and more accessible to all.

In a study published in the journal, Energy and Environmental Science, collaborating researchers from Power Roll and Sheffield have explained how this unique architecture based on a surface embossed with ‘micro-grooves’ could be the answer to make solar power affordable.

Professor David Lidzey, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Sheffield, who has led on the collaboration with Power Roll, said: “There is global interest in using solar cells to generate low carbon, green electricity. The design of the back contacted solar module is both innovative and elegant and can potentially capture more of the available light within the device.’’

Neil Spann, CEO of Power Roll, said: “We believe that our patented microgroove architecture is a game changer. The market opportunities for our solar PV product are significant, including off-grid solutions, commercial and domestic systems, powering the internet of things, portable power generation and military applications. This technology will deliver significant wider environmental, economic and social benefits.”

A Unique Technology

Dr Trevor McArdle – Senior Research Scientist Power Roll commented: “Over the last 40 years, the majority of solar cells have been based on a conventional flat structure, in which layers of different materials are deposited one upon another to create the solar cell. However, we have developed a radically different architecture to make solar cells using a surface patterned by micro-grooves that individually are a fraction of the width of a human hair.”

Researchers showed that by coating opposing walls of micro-grooves with different electrical contacts, and then filling the groove with a solar ink, it was possible to create a new type of back contacted solar cell.

Ultra-low cost, flexible and lightweight

The innovative 3D solar architecture is designed to remove many of the manufacturing process steps required by existing PV modules. This opens the potential to deploy manufacturing methods already used in other sectors and when coupled with the low cost of the material and high production throughput, results in solar panels produced at one fifth of the cost of the current market leader and less than one tenth of the equivalent lightweight flexible solar panels using standard technology. This means the cost of electricity produced is significantly cheaper than hydrocarbons and eliminates the need for subsidies.

A Power Roll solar module will weigh only four percent of a conventional solar module of the same power weighing less than 0.5 kg per square meter compared to 12 kg per square meter for existing silicon PV panels. This has hugely exciting implications for less developed and off grid areas of the world where it is simply not viable to transport heavy solar panels. Other benefits of Power Roll’s solar module design include reduced power losses due to shading or defects; removal of expensive transparent conductive oxides; simple and low-cost electrical interconnections; lower carbon footprint and the ability to tune electrical output to match user requirements.

Scaling up to commercialisation

Professor Lidzey, added: “The devices we have demonstrated have a promising efficiency, whereby seven percent of sunlight power falling onto a single photovoltaic micro-groove device is directly converted to electrical power, this is already around a third of what the best performing but expensive solar cells produce today, and I expect further rapid improvement.”

Building on the work published in this paper, Power Roll and Sheffield have recently successfully produced working mini-module demonstrators comprising 3,400 grooves arranged in 190 individual solar modules within the space of three square centimetres. Power Roll is now focusing on scaling up the technology ready for commercialisation.

Notes to Editors:

Power Roll is a North East technology company working to develop disruptive energy generation and storage products. Its unique, patented and award winning platform technology facilitates lightweight and ultra-low-cost solar photovoltaic (“PV”) and energy storage products.

Media Contact: Neil Spann, Managing Director, on 0191 543 9254 or email

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