Hold the Front Page, it’s Printed Solar Panels

10 January 2008

TSolar Panels are, along with wind turbines, one of the two poster children for alternative energy. But like all technologies, they have disadvantages as well as advantages. The main one is that they are expensive and complicated to manufacture. Silicon, the basic material, is incredibly abundant and cheap. However making it into sheets is a very technology-intensive process, and in UK and similar latitudes, photovoltaic solar power generation is for specialised applications.

For solar electricity to be competitive with other energy products the cost of solar P.V. must come down by an order of magnitude. Many companies are working on different projects to improve the concept, but a company called Nanosolar based in California has announced it has shipped the first of its innovative panels, created by using a printing process on thin plastic film. Nanosolar says that its process is more like producing newspapers than high-technology. It claims that its panels are cost-effective, versatile, and will be mass-produced, thus lowering prices and making solar electricity generation cost-competitive with other forms of power; of course it is much cleaner and there are no fuel costs.


Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen with printed solar cells

Nanosolar shipped their first commercial panels in December. Currently the waiting time is a year, but they are striving hard to increase their manufacturing capacity to meet demand. The five-year old company has received a record USD 20 million from the US government. Although this is chickenfeed compared to – for example – subsidies to the nuclear and fossil fuel power industries, it shows that the company is being taken very seriously.

Among investors in the USD 100 million Nanosolar has raised, are Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. CEO Martin Roscheisen said the manufacturing process the company has developed will enable it to eventually deliver solar electricity for less than a dollar per watt, which would be significantly cheaper than fossil fuel sources of power generation.
If Nanosolar are as successful as they predict, a new generation of affordable, flexible solar panels will be on the market within a few years. This is the future of power generation, not obsolete behemoths of nuclear power stations, which, even if they are started immediately, would not be completed till after 2020.

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