Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Cheap plastic solar cells

Nothing like being timely - Quana posted this over a week ago. It's about a new way to make solar photovoltaic (PV) cells cheaply at a large scale, at the cost of efficiency.

Early practical solar cells were developed for the space program. Cost mattered little compared to the amount of power, the volume and the weight, and we didn't need tremendous amounts of it. This forced the development of technologies that were particularly efficient (but still only on the order of about 10%) but expensive and slow to fabricate.

Suppose you want to use PV to power houses? Now weight, bulk and efficiency are less important, but you want cheap, fast, and lots of it. Suddenly the old technologies are no longer appropriate.

Imagine if you could get as much of this stuff as you wanted, and cheaply. You could use it for roofing, siding, drapes, tarps, umbrellas... If it's less efficient than other technologies, who cares? - even if you only get 1% of the power the sun shines on it, that's more than you had without it.

But guess what it's made out of. Cadmium, which is highly toxic. And plastic (polymers), which might well be derived from petroleum.

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