Enough sunlight falls on the Earth in two hours to support all of civilization’s power needs for an entire year. This compelling statistic ought to have mobs unplugging from the grid and off to the solar store for some PV modules and wires. When we see how energy is free, that it literally falls from the sky and all we have to do is collect it, why should we live under the whim of a heartless energy monopoly, in dread of their threatening pink notices?
At some level, however, we all know that unless the grid itself is powered by renewable energy, the economic, social, and environmental plague of fossil fuels and nuclear power will go on to pollute the world regardless of how tiny our individual footprints may be.
So the best news, lately, has been about the solar we can’t have: industrial-strength adaptations for large-scale solar power that are beginning to answer some of the shortcomings of our favorite energy source. Traditional mono-and-polycrystalline panels are a technological wonder, but mass-producing them presents some economic and environmental problems of their own. Many people worry about the long “energy debt” these panels have, often three to five years before the energy to manufacture such panels is recovered.
The focus in solar equipment manufacture has shifted from the watt to the megawatt, and the entire premise of solar collection is rapidly evolving. Since solar panels obviously need to cover the maximum surface area, engineers have been hard at work on that third dimension, reducing the thickness of each module.
They haven’t stopped there. A company called Nanosolar is now producing solar cells so thin that they are literally painted on, collecting charge by means of a special ink. Want some? You can’t have any; despite enormous investments from giants like IBM and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as reports that the company’s new plants have the ability to produce 1 billion watts to wholesale at about $1 a piece, Nanosolar says it is sold out for at least a year in advance. Try again in 2009.
Boasting an impressive 14.5% efficiency and the lowest cost yet for photovoltaic cells, we can’t wait until this technology makes it to the consumer level. Unfortunately, since the technology is patented and proprietary, and Nanosolar shows no interest in the residential sector, it will be some time before microsolar makes its way to the open market.
Nanosolar has been awarded the Green Leap Award from Holy Solar for innovative advancement in the approach to alternative energy.
Until then, we’ll have to get by with the next-best thing, solar cells which are merely thin, available from Global Solar and UniSolar. See these thin-film solar cells available from Real Goods.
Nanosolar Thin Film Production-100 ft per minute Solar Printing Capacity