Researchers say it may soon be cheap enough for most people to use solar energy to power their homes.
Prof Ken Durose is leading the Durham team
Experts at Durham University are developing light-absorbing materials which will be used for energy-creating solar photovoltaic (PV) cells.
It is hoped the results will lead to cheaper solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in their use.
The four-year project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Solar power currently provides less than one hundredth of 1% of the UK's home energy needs.
A new generation of thinner PV cells would be used to make solar panels that could be fitted to roofs to help power homes with any surplus electricity being fed back to The National Grid.
The Durham team claim this could lead to cheaper fuel bills and less reliance on burning fossil fuels as a way of helping to generate electricity.
Prof Ken Durose, director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, said: "One of the main issues in solar energy is the cost of materials and we recognise that the cost of solar cells is slowing down their uptake.
"If solar panels were cheap enough so you could buy a system off the shelf that provided even a fraction of your power needs you would do it, but that product isn't there at the moment."
To aid its research, the university has taken delivery of a £1.7m suite of high powered electron microscopes, which allow scientists to see the minute detail of solar cells.