A major engineering breakthrough by researchers at the Australian National University could slash the price of solar power.
The team, led by The Duong from the ANU Research School of Engineering, made the discovery while experimenting with a "light harvesting" mineral compound called perovskite.
They combined perovskite with silicon and by using the materials in tandem have found the design is 26 per cent more efficient than conventional silicon solar cells.
Mr Duong, a PhD student within the school, said the advance could ultimately make it cheaper to produce solar power.
"We are now a step closer to a low cost alternative," he said.
"Until now efficiencies of this kind have only been achieved using high-cost materials normally used on satellites."
ANU Research School of Engineering Professor Kylie Catchpole said the research, published in Advanced Energy Materials was supported by $3.6 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The project, conducted in partnership with University of New South Wales, Monash University, Arizona State University, Suntech R&D Australia Pty Ltd and Trina Solar, was good news for renewables worldwide.
"What is important about the perovskite materials is you can process them at a low temperature, from a solution so you could potentially print them onto a surface," she said.
"The processing costs are much lower than for silicon."
The materials worked in tandem to capture the most energy with the perovskite layer on top absorbing and getting higher voltage from blue light and red light going through to be absorbed by the silicon layer.
"If you just have one single material there is that compromise which limits the efficiency whereas if you have both materials you can get a higher efficiency overall," Professor Catchpole said.
Researchers hope by tinkering with the design they can increase efficiencies to 30 per cent and beyond in the near future.
However, as perovskite was sensitive to moisture the challenge ahead was to design a cell that protected the material and ensure it would continue to function reliably on exteriors and rooftops.
"They lose efficiency if they are not encapsulated," Professor Catchpole said.
"The key challenge for now is achieving the same stability as we have with silicon solar cells that can be put out on a roof for 20 years using perovskite."