215: Perovskite – The Future of Solar?


Matt and Sean talk about perovskite breakthroughs and changes in solar energy production. Is it really the future of solar technology? 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, 2024 Perovskite Breakthroughs are the Future of Solar https://youtu.be/FOBY6t1xnMI?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re going to talk about perovskite research and its changes to solar energy production. Hi everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I wrote some sci fi. I wrote some stuff for kids, and I’m just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives.

As we like to do, we visit Matt’s most recent episode, but we also talk about our previous episodes and some of the comments from all of you, our listeners and viewers. Matt, how are you doing today? Well, seems like

we’ll start a little kind of worn out today. Yesterday, uh, our dog decided to take our cat’s favorite cat toy, which is this little gray, uh, ghost favorite toy in the world.

She takes that toy and I catch her chomping on it. Like she wants to actually eat it. So I’m trying to get it away from her. She’s being very possessive. We were like, Hey, here’s some food. So. Let’s trick her. Take the food, drop the ghost. She tricked us because she took the food out of our hands and then swallowed both.

So we had to take her to the emergency room where they forced her to vomit up said ghost and then came out to us with the ghost in a rubber glove and said, do you want this back? And both of us looked at each other and we’re like, it’s kind of gross, but it is the cat’s favorite cat toy. So my wife said, maybe, yes, and then reached out and then touched it and immediately went, oh, no, no, no, just throw it away.

As we left, she said, it was the densest, heaviest thing because it was so full of stomach juices. Yes.


was like, mm, that’s not

recoverable, let’s just throw it away. You’re making me hungry just talking about it. I was going to say that I thought where this was going is that. The dog trained you because I thought you were going to say, we gave her a treat.

And so she gave us back the toy and then she kept bringing us the toy, expecting a treat. That’d be the other way. That was a twist. Yes. The old ER twist. Well, I hope the dog is feeling better. And I would hate to think this is a new habit of hers to go find parts of the cat’s toy box and ingest it.

On now to our discussion about our most recent episode. This is our conversation that we had about analog computers from episode 214. And there were some people sharing some previous experiences with analog computers in the comments as there were from Matt’s original video. And I suggest people go back and watch his original video.

It’s a really interesting topic. But there were comments like this from Robert who said analog computers in the bottom of the USS Missouri, 20 ish feet above the keel under the 16 inch guns, they received fire missions from forward spotters on Normandy beach via radio. They called in to take out a truck or a gun.

One shot equals no truck or gun. So it fits right in with our conversation last week where We described how we’ve been living with analog computers in the background for quite a while, and we don’t think of them as computers because they don’t beep and boop in the ways that we are accustomed to. But maybe we need to expand our definition of what a computer is and it could free up some of our thinking.

There was also this from Dave H. who said, Most people don’t realize the world is inescapably analog regardless of the digital construct we run across it. Your temperature increases in the original video outlines this. We literally corral threshold, the gliding analog glide, into a digital number value which exists in only in our minds.

I can see how analog systems could execute the matrix multiplication which underpins AI far more quickly than digital. We already need to apply error correction across digital systems. It’s only perfect in our heads. So this can be applied to analog systems to increase accuracy. Maybe we’re looking at a relaxing of digital puritanism rather than something quote new.

And I like that comment. It sounds very much like Dave has a very big, uh, understanding, a really clear understanding of how this is all working. And I liked his reference to digital puritanism, and I thought it kind of applies to a lot of the conversations you and I have, Matt, in talking about people go into certain decisions, With a all or nothing mindset.

We’ve had this conversation a number of different times where it’s, well, if you can’t do this perfectly, Then you might as well not do it at all. And Dave is sending out a good reminder that that’s a kind of puritanical thinking where you remove all their options. There is one path forward. What you’re actually doing is restricting yourself.

From actually achieving any kind of advancement improvement. So thank you, Dave, for that comment. I thought it was very useful

to add on to that comment. I, after the video came out, the CEO of Mythic, which is, uh, the, one of the companies I talked about in the video, that’s got a analog chip that they’re have on the market.

Um, he reached out to me. And said, Hey, you want to chat? So I had a chat with him last week and we talked about a whole range of things. But in my conversation with him, um, he brought up stuff around this exact point of that. You can’t be ideological about it, that, uh, there’s already error correction in digital systems.

And the argument, the analog introduces a lot of noise can be accounted for. In the processing that you’re doing. So, uh, for instance, if you’re doing AI or machine learning algorithms and, uh, You’re, you’re, you’re sending the calculation into this analog chip. So there’s a digital to analog conversion happening, which takes some power, but you send this massive calculation into the mythic chip.

And because it can do the calculation kind of like all at once, it just kind of boom. Cause it’s just a series of voltages all coming out where a digital system would have to be doing just a quick

second. And like, in my mind, it’s almost mechanical. It’s like, almost like gears in, uh, where somebody’s got a lever, it’s not, and they pull the lever and something turns and something else turns.

And is that, uh, No, like is my analogy off?

It’s off. Okay. Think of it like, um, you’re plugging something into an outlet. So you’ve got power coming through that wire and some devices need 120 volts. Some need 240 volts. They need different voltages. It’s voltages we’re talking about. So imagine power going through resistors and things like that.

The voltage equates to a number. If you want to think of it that way. So if you have a series of voltages coming through and the calculations are being done electrically, analog, these voltages, you get the number out at the end. So instead of flipping bits, a whole bunch of zeros and ones to do the calculations, you’re just adjusting voltages to get the, the, the calculation you need, which is slightly imprecise.

So as Dave, as, as the CEO of Mythic was bringing up to me, he basically mentioned that. Uh, if you have an algorithm where you’ve come up with this kind of machine learning kind of model for, for let’s say detecting somebody, uh, a human being in an image, um, when you train that model for an analog chip, your, the model takes into account the noise that is introduced by the analog system.

At the end result, it will be just as accurate as a digital system at detecting that human being because of the way the system works. It’s just like, boom, it gets it where a digital system is having to kind of do a lot of flipping around where it’s taking some data and having to shunt it off into flash memory and then having to do a different calculation and then pull that stuff back out of memory again.

It’s having to do a lot of shuffling at different steps, um, where the analog system is basically kind of like one step. I got it. So it’s, that’s why it’s more power efficient. Mm-Hmm. than a digital system. I, I oversimplified that greatly. Yeah. But it was like, the point he was bringing up is exactly what Dave said in his comment, which is, we shouldn’t discount this for digital purity from some kind of puritanical point of view of digital is just period better.

Where it’s not, we don’t have to be precious about this. We can find different solutions that may. Achieve the same accuracy at the end point. And yeah, it may introduce noise into the system a little bit, but you can account for that noise and just filter it out essentially by the end. And you end up with something that’s just as good and to kind of, it sounds like I’m on the mythic train here, but he also brought up how they’ve had third party independent verification against the accuracy of their system.

And they compared their system to, uh, the major companies like NVIDIA and others. Where they ran the same detection, whatever they were, whatever they were doing for Apple stops comparison for their machine learning stuff. Uh, they did a comparison and they discovered that their system was actually more accurate than one of the competitors they tested it against.

And it was also then more power efficient than all of them. So it’s, this is the whole argument for these hybrid systems is that if we can get the end result that’s the same and use far less power, why would

we not do that? Yeah.

It just makes so much sense.

I also like the phrase noise in the system, and as you were saying it, I know this isn’t exactly what you’re talking about, but when you talk about like the purity of digital, the benefits of digital over analog, it being better overall, but noise in the system, I cannot but think of recent FaceTime calls I’ve had with my son where my phone accepts Some glancing gesture as thumbs up and then suddenly there’s a thumbs

up popping up

over my head or it’s happened a number of times where it reads me as giving a thumbs up and it puts the thumbs up over my partner’s face so it’s almost like censoring her with a big thumbs up and our last call I don’t know what happened but in the conversation I said something My partner said something, we’re not sure what it was, but we said da da da da da da and suddenly behind us, digital balloons were floating through the ceiling.

And, well, thanks. That actually happened on this podcast, Sean. I don’t know if you knew that. It actually happened. We were talking and I did some gesture that looked like a thumbs up and there were a whole bunch of thumbs that went up in my background. I don’t see that. My editor, my editor to get rid of it in the final edit, he like zoomed in close on my face, but you could still see one of those gray bubbles kind of going up next to my head.

That’s, I mean, I turn that feature off. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so pervasive that I recently was logging on and I thought it was very, very funny. The context of this, I was logging on. I. I am a big proponent for people should have, people should have therapists. People should get therapy. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve been seeing a therapist for years.

I’ve seen multiple therapists over the years. Uh, and I think it’s great. I’m logging on. I do my therapy virtually and I’m logging on last week and it came up with a warning message before it let me into the virtual office, which was some Apple devices will add emojis to the conversation.


the context of where I was going, I thought it was very funny.

The idea that somebody would be like, I don’t know, doc, I’m, I’m feeling really depressed and balloons might suddenly pull up to the ceilings or fireworks or fireworks. I don’t know. I think my, I think my partner hates me. Thumbs up

on now to our discussion about Matt’s most recent. This is his episode, 2024 Perovskite breakthroughs are the future of solar. And this episode dropped on April 16th, 2024. Uh, real quick, before we get into our conversation, Perovskite. Very brief. What is it?

What the hell are you talking about, Matt? Uh, it’s a different, it’s a different material that instead of doing silicon, you’re, it’s a basically a man made material that we can make that is better at capturing solar energy.

I mean, that’s it in a nutshell. But it has a whole lot of downsides that have been holding it back.

So up to this point, your video goes through all this very, very nicely, up to this point, it hasn’t been utilized because of these downsides that you mentioned, which include, um, longevity being one of them.

It’s not, it doesn’t last as long, even under the best of circumstances is my understanding. And is another issue durability, not just longevity, but durability, it’s harder to keep it safe effectively.

Those are the, those two things are tightly intertwined. The longevity and durability are the biggest issues that have to be solved.

So when you’re talking about breakthroughs, you’re talking about companies that are doing research and figuring out how to, how to enhance or replace current solar. By including Perovskite in the mix and they have tried to break through those two barriers of longevity and durability and have had varying levels of success.

And you talked in your video about how many companies was it? Three? That you talked about. I think it was three. I think it was three companies that, that have taken various paths to, to try and improve this, created a lot of conversations in the comments and, uh, just kind of big picture. One that jumped out from Lucas Horrigan that I think is the most useful for you as a YouTube, uh, producer Lucas says, you put out perfect content for nerdy homeowners that are looking to maximize

Thank you. . If you had any confusion as to who your, who your target audience is, I think Lucas hits the nail on the head. It’s the nerdy homeowner

that, that’s I would with, would define myself, by the way, .

Yeah. And I say that with love. If I was a homeowner, I would also be a nerdy homeowner. I’d be looking to, there were comments like this from who.

said, I used to work for Oxford PV. I left a few months ago to start a PhD in organic photovoltaics. And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but think Dr. Arctic’s venom has a certain ring to it that I really, really like. Arctic says, it’s always nice to see Oxford PV mentioned. They’ve got some of the best experts in the world working there.

And I know full well, they’re on track to produce in no time, especially now that I’m not there holding things back. So, Artics, I hope you stick around. self deprecating humor there. Yeah. Artics, I hope you stick around in the comments and, uh, good luck on your PhD studies. Um, but I think it’s fascinating, Matt, that you’ve got people who are in the industry, but you’ve got bookends here.

Lucas jumps in and says, These are great for the nerdy homeowner. And then you’ve got somebody who actually worked at one of these places studying for a PhD in organic photovoltaics, which I’m sorry, that sounds incredibly cool.

You’ve got It’s basically replicating photosynthesis is basically what it’s doing.

Yeah. Yeah. So you’ve got

those two, you’ve got those two, uh, people in the audience. And I think that’s fantastic that you’ve got both the people who are like, how do I get this on my roof? Yeah. Yeah. So that my energy needs are met. You’ve also got the people who are helping to develop the the technology.

I think that’s wonderful. Udovster jumped into the comments to say perovskite has been the future of solar panels for the last 10 years, I think. I won’t believe it’s the future. until I see the mass production and usage. So my question to you, Matt, is, is it still the material of the future or is there a competitor to Perovskite that you know of lurking somewhere on the horizon?

Also, is the future actually now? And like Michael Hutchens said, is the 21st century yesterday?

Uh, his comment is kind of It actually summarizes my feelings about Perovskite. I think Perovskite has been oversold for the past decade. It’s been championed as the next big thing. I’ve talked to numerous people that are in the solar industry that talk about, Oh, it’s here. It’s coming this year. And it doesn’t come that year.

Um, so I’m kind of in that same mindset of I’ll believe it when I see it, which is why I talked about companies like Oxford PV. They’re saying we will be mass producing this this year. It’s like, that’s why I was talking about them. It’s right. It’s like enough already. Like who’s actually doing it. Who’s bringing this to the market?

Um, So I, I’m myself, I’m kind of skeptical. Uh, there are other avenues towards very cool solar tech. Uh, that I could cut, like organic PV is another one, um, the, but when you’re talking about like mass scale production, perovskites really are the best on paper because of they are dramatically cheaper. The materials that go into it are cheaper.

And if the production is as high as the theoretical limits are showing that they can be, it’s going to be better performing than silicon for efficiency. How much energy it can capture from the sun and then turn into electricity as well as just how much it costs to make the stupid panel. So if it can, if they can crack that nut, it’s like, it’s clear that this will be the future of solar.

Um, but I’m definitely in that camp of, I believe when I see it, please, please somebody to start making these stupid things so we can actually say it’s here.

I, I don’t know the industry in the way that you do. Um, I can’t help but wonder how much of this is similar to fashion shows where they have a fashion show and things walk down the runway that are never going to be in clothing stores.

Concept clothing. designers demonstrating like the general vision of how they see clothing. So you’ll see somebody walk out with nothing but giant angles and rods in the clothing. And then what ends up on the store shelves is a much more watered down version of that thing. And I don’t know this industry, uh, but I can’t help but wonder how much Does this industry suffer from that kind of fashion thinking, where you put out these statements?

Or are they being misinterpreted by the media? We’ve talked about that before where a scientist goes, I just made a breakthrough that increased the solar panel production of this solar cell in the lab by 5%. And then somebody on CNN puts up a splash that says solar production increasing across the board.

Um, so it’s both. It’s both are true. It’s like the researchers are not necessarily lying about what they’ve done. They are telling the truth. But a lot of research papers and look at me, articles that they put out, the press releases are put out to get attention. So they are not deli necessarily, they’re not lying, but they’re putting a fact in the headline of the PR piece that’s like a wow.

And it gets the media’s attention and they talk about it, but outta context. It’s not when you look at the context of what actually their discovery means. It’s like a small piece of a bigger thing and it’s not going to come to market for the next 5 10 years, but the media skims over that. So they do that to get funding.

They do that to get the attention. If they’re part of a college or university, it’s a way to put the feather in their cap and get more attention and more donors and stuff like that. There’s money involved in all of this. That’s the motivations trying to get additional money to continue their research.

It’s a, it’s a whole bag of pain, basically, but if you can sift through that, there are still, there’s still truth to what’s being touted. So I like the idea of the fashion analogy because it is kind of that. It’s like a company coming out and saying, look at me, look what I’ve done. And a good example would be the solid state industry for batteries.

We’ve been promised solid state batteries for 20 years now, and they’re still not really a thing yet. And part of the reason for that disconnect is. The stuff they’ve been bragging about is truthful, but the context of how long it takes to take something from the idea to the mass manufacturer is massive.

And that’s what gets lost in the context a lot. So as a public, we’re very impatient. And so when a few years go by and go like, Hey, you told me a few years ago that you had this thing. thing licked and it’s like, well, no, technically, no, they, they are on track, but we just didn’t have the context that it’s going to take a decade for them to make that thing a reality.

That’s true for the solar industry. So as much as these perovskite efficiency records that I mentioned in the video are happening, those exact cells would not be on the market anytime soon. That’s why the, I brought it up in the video, these tandem cells where you’re using a silicon layer with a perovskite layer together.

Um, it’s, it’s like the baby step. It’s like a, we’re working our way to that better thing by creating sandwiches of different cell technologies together. Um, it’s kind of like the middle step before we get to some kind of pure perovskite cell if that happens down the road.

That goes in directly to the next comment I wanted to share, which was from 2DRG who said, Your program, meaning your program, Matthew, on vertical solar has changed my thinking forever.

I see applying it to perovskite panels as well as many others, reducing temps, damage, etc, extending longevity by eliminating several wear factors, and then he goes on to say some nice things about us. My question jumping off of this to you was, What do you see as the interface between perovskite and other developments in solar that you’ve talked about in the past, such as vertical, uh, use of it over water canals or waterways, agricultural use?

Is this something that you will see folded into solar panels or will there be some use cases where perovskite just wouldn’t make sense because for example, if you’re putting it someplace like. Would you want to put perovskite in a solar farm that’s near a highway? Would, would stones potentially bouncing off of tires and going into the air potentially damage those panels, that kind of thing?

I would say no, there would be no limit. Like whatever panels a company like Oxford PV or Tandem sells or whatever, whatever company is putting out these things, they’re going to be making it so that it’s as durable. as any other competitor product. So I don’t think there’d be a limitation for where you technically could put these and what use cases there are for them.

Um, I don’t think that would be the limiting factor, but there were a lot of comments that brought up, and this is true, that there are materials in perovskites, like there’s lead, things like that, that are in perovskite cells that are not necessarily in silicon cells. And there might be different levels of it.

And there’s concern about that. That leeching out, which if you look into it, it’s overblown, way overblown, but it is a concern. So it’s like there’s If you’re concerned about that, you’re not going to be putting like lead above a waterway. Yeah. Even though it’s overblown. So I think that might be, might play into some of the, like, where is it good or safe to use this versus not.

But I, I think there’s no limitation. As long as they’re made as durable as there’s other solar cells.

Finally, I wanted to share this from Eric Manley, who left a comment that I appreciated just because for how high above my head it goes. Eric says, if anyone is curious, a big reason for the instability issue in perovskite panels, it’s is that methyl ammonium lead iodide, the main perovskite solar compound, although I’m pretty sure newer advancements have all sorts of fun dopants or substitutions in there, is fundamentally a metastable state.

This leads to some of the great charge transport phenomena as perovskites are remarkably resilient to grain boundaries. However, being metastable means that injections of energy from things like heat, sunlight, etc. can cause the PBI to change. to leave into a more stable, less useful phase. Hopefully, some of these researchers can solve this, but it is a truly tough nut to crack as the thing that makes the perovskite so efficient is also the heart of the problem.

I love this comment. Me too. I didn’t understand it on the first reading. I didn’t really understand it on the second reading, but just now reading it out loud, I think I understood a little bit more on the third. So. Thank you so much, Eric, for jumping into the comments with that. I think it’s another indication like that.

We now have three points of in the Venn diagram of who is Matt’s audience. We have the people intensely involved in the research. We have the people who want to apply this stuff into their homes. And then we have people. Who know this stuff inside and out from a chemical background. It’s remarkable.

Chemistry, yeah. Yeah, a chemistry background. It’s remarkable the, the intersection of people in your comments. Everybody should keep jumping in. I love seeing comments like that. And let us know in the comments here what you thought about this conversation. Were there some questions that you had for Matt about this topic that I didn’t get to?

Let us know in the comments and I’ll try and pick those up next time. Please don’t forget, uh, your comments not only drive the content of this program, they drive the content of Matt’s main channel, Undecided with Matt Ferrell. And if you’d like to support the show, all you have to do is leave a comment.

Don’t forget to subscribe. Don’t forget to share it with your friends. All of those are great ways to support the channel, and if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to still TBD fm and click the Become a Supporter button there. It allows you to throw some coins at our heads and we appreciate the welts.

Thank you so much everybody, for taking the time or to watch or listen, and we’ll talk to you next time.

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