The Future of Sustainable Solar Energy: Printable Solar Cells

Printable solar cells have long been a dream of the renewable energy crowd.  Just the thought of being able to slap some paper in your inkjet and run off a few hundred solar cells makes even the person with an average interest in “going green” take notice.While the specialty materials aren’t available to the public, it does seem that this dream has become a reality.  Nansolar, a company out of California with offices in Germany, have attempted and achieved just such a process.The “paper” for this process is actually a low cost, highly conductive metal foil substrate.  This means that the films are printed directly on the substrate, instead of glass or stainless steel.  As a result, the bottom electrode gets much simpler because the substrate can do an extra job and carry the current.As far as the “ink” goes, it’s a secret formula of four elements that have to be in a specific atomic ratio to perform their functions.  When the proper ratio of these elements is reached, it has the effect of locking the nanoparticles into a uniform design, in effect, lining them up in the correct orientation to achieve the desired results.Although there has been some skepticism, mostly due to pricing claims and a reluctance to release information on the efficiency of their product, it is undisputed that Nanosolar has made great strides in providing cost effective, printable solar panels.  They have shipped their first commercial products, the Nanosolar utility panel, which is receiving outstanding reviews.Overall, if Nanosolar follows through on their claims, we may soon enjoy high output, low cost energy from printed solar panels at 99 cent a watt.  That’s around $3000 for enough solar panels to power the average US home, a fraction of the cost of wafer cell technology.

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