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Power Technology

Printable, Rollable Solar Panels Could Go Anywhere 187

Posted by timothy
from the why-isn't-my-car's-dome-light-an-led dept.
Al writes "A startup based in Toledo, Ohio, has developed a way to make large, flexible solar panels using a roll-to-roll manufacturing technique. Thin-film amorphous silicon solar cells are formed on thin sheets of stainless steel, and each solar module is about one meter wide and five-and-a-half meters long. Conventional silicon solar panels are bulky and rigid, but these lightweight, flexible sheets could easily be integrated into roofs and building facades."
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Printable, Rollable Solar Panels Could Go Anywhere

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  • Regular Solar Panels (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:51PM (#28244929)
    Regular Solar Panels are not bulky. It is the structure that is bulky.
  • Re:Imagine that (Score:5, Informative)

    by jshackney (99735) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:07PM (#28245059) Homepage

    From this [technologyreview.com] article, "Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) have been around since the late 1980s, Warner says, but only lately have they begun to see some success with large commercial and residential developments. Recent advances in flexible thin-film photovoltaic materials--such as those sold by United Solar--are allowing manufacturers to more easily integrate photovoltaics directly into the roofs and facades of buildings."

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:13PM (#28245101) Homepage

    No. They're in the exact opposite situation, in fact. They can't make their product fast enough to keep up with orders, which is why it's not really possible for consumers to purchase them. There are much, much worse positions for a company to be in.

  • by benjamindees (441808) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:17PM (#28245139) Homepage

    Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), especially rooftop applications, would be the biggest market for flexible PV technology, Boas says.

    Roofing is a significant cost in a residential structure. Being able to integrate the roofing material with the solar panels can help make photovoltaics cost-effective.

    In Las Vegas, for instance, roofs are made of expensive (and heavy) clay tiles, mostly for aesthetic reasons. These run anywhere from $30-$50 / m^2.

  • by TD-Linux (1295697) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:24PM (#28245185)
    Cost-per-watt matters much more than density right now (efficiency directly affects density) - look at all the roofs and other potential locations for solar panels. Efficiency isn't the reason they aren't up, it's the high cost. Even 8% efficiency, is still more power than you get out of an asphalt slab.
  • by confused one (671304) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:29PM (#28245225)
    100% of Nanosolar's production output is going to large scale (commercial/industrial scale) solar plants. They keep building additional manufacturing capacity but have not saturated the commercial demand. There's no need for them to offer panels to consumers; their business model is quite sound.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @07:41PM (#28245323) Homepage Journal

    You can already get adhesive thin-film solar "panels" in widths and form factors intended for application to metal roofing panels (the kind shaped like this: A______A — but the As are open like a V and they overlap each other there.) You put it down on some sawhorses and roll out a big sticker which leaves you with a cord hanging off one end. As you put the panels on the roof, you snap the connectors together, and they all get covered by the roof cap at the end. If the roof cap should get damaged, it's inexpensive and relatively simple to replace, all in one piece, so it provides excellent protection for the wiring. You can walk on it, although that doesn't set it apart from today's high-quality crystalline panels.

  • by veganboyjosh (896761) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:32PM (#28245671)
    Actually, the clay tiles are used in most desert areas not for aesthetics. Well, not directly. They're the material that's been used in that area for hundreds of years. It's cheap, abundant, and easy to work with.

    One more reason they've been the material of choice for so long? They don't spontaneously combust the same way asphalt shingles or other popular materials can.

    /nitpicking.
  • by linuxpyro (680927) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @08:58PM (#28245843)

    I have one of these panels, a 10 watt one. I paid about $200 for it new. It's neat, especially since you can fit it in odd places. The high cost is mostly because you can roll it up into a type to store it. If you don't need that, it's not really worthwhile.

  • Re:nice new tech (Score:3, Informative)

    by confused one (671304) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:11PM (#28245919)
    Well you know, it's not the same panel. Hell, they don't even have a commercial product yet. Closest is the United Solar Ovonics panels, which aren't available through Home Depot. The Home Depot panels are BP solar. The United Solar panels are the same damn technology as the "new" tech espoused in the original article, by the way. Point was, although it's not the tech under discussion, Home Depot does sell solar PV systems.
  • Re:Imagine that (Score:4, Informative)

    by rhakka (224319) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:31PM (#28246033)

    Safari 3.2.1 has the same problem, I can report.

  • New Technology? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:10PM (#28246267)

    How is their product any different from PowerFilm's (http://www.powerfilmsolar.com/ [powerfilmsolar.com])? They have been making flexible solar panels for almost 20 years.

  • by benjamindees (441808) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:25PM (#28246363) Homepage

    1) It doesn't fit on a roof. The average roof space per capita is fairly tiny. This is the reason people are most interested in small-scale, high-efficiency, and ridiculously over-priced renewable energy production methods such as solar photovoltaics.

    2) Deserts are actually pretty windy. Tracking mirrors have to be over-built to stand up to the wind and avoid mis-alignment.

    3) Molten salt is high-temperature. High-temperature things could possibly be dangerous. Anything potentially dangerous attracts insurance companies, bands of idiots propped-up by a government that prefers killing people via wars and resource shortages rather than allowing individuals access to useful, possibly dangerous technologies.

    4) Aesthetics. Solar panels are mostly unobtrusive. Tracking mirrors and tanks filled with molten salt are industrial-looking, and thus ugly.

    So the basic problem is that power from molten salt tanks must be produced and sold as a commercial venture. That means it has to compete with coal and natural-gas fired utilities, and still be efficient enough to return a profit. This will basically never happen unless governments tax fossil fuels out of existence.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:07PM (#28246617)

    Because molten tanks work great when you are making a multi-megawatt generator to power a town, but are rediculously expensive, dangerous, and hard to maintain when put on top of a house when the owner simply wants to go off-the-grid, or only has $30k to spend. (Plus there are lots of us who don't live anywhere near the desert).

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:35PM (#28246799) Journal

    Well, there is no savings. The incandescent bulb is cheap, cheap cheap. The LED is not. The power to drive the light comes from the battery, which is charged by the alternator. The alternator doesn't care. You can run over 1KW off the stock alternator. The little current required for the incandescent or bulb doesn't matter. So why put a higher cost part in the car? But wait the LED isn't 12v, it is TTL, so you need to convert from what is a 12v-14v wiring harness to TTL levels. If you use a cheap resistor, you just convert to heat. If you use a charge pump/capacitor you again increase the cost. All for something that won't matter in terms of fuel economy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 08, 2009 @12:54AM (#28247207)

    TTL?! TTL has got nothing to do with illumination with LEDs.

    As for running LEDs on 12V, there's an easy solution for that: a single-chip regulator (costs less than LEDs!) and a string of LEDs in series. Easy.
    You need your LEDs, a small PCB to hold it all, the regulator, perhaps a capacitor or two, and an inductor. The LEDs are likely to consume most
    of the cost.

  • Re:Safety (Score:3, Informative)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Monday June 08, 2009 @01:39AM (#28247409) Journal

    Actually, it's by far the most dangerous. It is completely unshielded, and its ionizing radiation is responsible for thousands of cancer deaths each year.

    ummmm, I'm sure the magnetosphere shields us from the suns radiation.

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Monday June 08, 2009 @05:30AM (#28248635)

    Companies have been manufacturing and selling thin-film, flexible printed to roll solar panels since at least a year ago.

    For example, check http://www.uni-solar.com/ [uni-solar.com] and http://www.firstsolar.com/ [firstsolar.com]

    The things to keep in mind with this technology:
    - Cheaper manufacturing, partly because the print to roll technology is much more scalable that the processes used to manufacture traditional solar cells, but also because of high silicon prices (traditional solar-cells use a silicon substract just like integrated circuits and thus compete for the same raw materials: before the recession silicon production was insufficient for both needs, so silicon prices where making traditional solar cells more expensive).
    - Lower efficiency (around 9%) versus traditional solar cells (around 15%). Note that some recent advances are likely to increase the efficiency of traditional solar cells even further.
    - Better at generating energy under low light conditions (e.g. in the shadow) than traditional solar cells.
    - There are some questions about the long term viability of some thin-film solar cell technologies since they use rare elements: their price might go higher as production increases since that will also increase the demand for said rare raw materials.

  • by twisteddk (201366) on Monday June 08, 2009 @06:26AM (#28248901)

    While printing on film is fairly cheap, this is actually a somewhat dated techbology already. TFT technology is older than I am, and a couple of years ago, Danish researchers prooved that they could actually PRINT (using a normal printer and special ink) a solar cell.
    Again, it suffers the same problems that this cell does, that the efficiency is very low. At the same time, the print would ofcourse decay/fade over time. This problem at least seems to be resolved by printing on thin film. Production of the Danish invetion is expected to hit the streets pretty darned soon.

    Normal cost of solar cells is measured in $/WP, and at best you'd get about $6-8/WP for a monosilcate or poly silicate cell today, and that's for the really inefficient ones that takes up a lot of space. The new tech will (well, it SHOULD, but likely someone will claim return on investment and hike up the prices the first couple of years) put current prices below $1/WP, but take up even more space than before. This means that it will be cheaper to get cells than buy power on the open market (at least given the prices in Europe), ofcourse dependant on the lifetime expectancy and diminishing returns of the cell. Plus you still need to have enough space for all those cells. Today a 1 Kw base takes up about 60 square feet, and this tech pretty much tripples or even quadrouples that space requirement, but makes the investment affordable.

  • Re:Imagine that (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster@man.gmail@com> on Monday June 08, 2009 @08:49AM (#28249725)

    To change the voltage. Historically, it's been hard to change DC voltages in a small, efficient, compact device.

    Bullshit. It's easy to get >80% efficiency with a small Buck Converter circuit, and well designed circuits can get upwards of 95% for some conversions. You know that power supply in your computer? Only about half of it turns the AC into DC. All those voltages you use (12V, 3.3V, 5V, etc) are generated from small, efficient DC/DC converters. It's just a controller, inductor, capacitor, and transistor.

    Don't believe me? How's this for small? [powerconversion.com] And yes, I am an Electrical Engineer, and spent a summer designing a power supply with two DC/DC converters.

  • Re:Imagine that (Score:2, Informative)

    by ninjackn (1424235) on Monday June 08, 2009 @01:42PM (#28253229) Journal
    Companies like Antec and Seasonic have been incorporating DC-DC converters in their newer power supplies. It's even advertised in the product [antec.com] pages [seasonicusa.com]. The DC to DC design is becoming more and more widespread in PSU because they're much more efficient than the older design.

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