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Cheap printable solar power
November 17, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Popular Science has named Nanosolar the #1 innovative product of the year. Finally, cheap and ubiquitous solar power has arrived, “You’re talking about printing rolls of the stuff—printing it on the roofs of 18-wheeler trailers, printing it on garages, printing it wherever you want it,” The only problem is demand, so they're building the world’s largest solar-panel manufacturing facility in San Jose. See 96 other innovations in PopSci's Best of 2007.
posted by stbalbach (25 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have been following this company for a year or so. I will have my house solarized when it becomes available. It only takes 1 month to pay for itself. Then I will be making money selling power back to SRP. Woot!
posted by Mr_Zero at 12:06 PM on November 17, 2007


Finally, cheap and ubiquitous solar power has arrived...

Cheap, perhaps. But not ubiquitous, not yet. They say "430 megawatts of generation capacity" produced per year -- but the US uses in excess of 400 gigawatts of electricity average.

Peak electric power usage today in California alone is 28 gigawatts, or 65 years worth of output from this factory.

This factory is a good first step. Now we need another 200 factories just like it. Then we can start talking about "ubiquity".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2007


By the way, total energy use in the US is about 3.3 terawatts. That's 7600 years worth of output from that factory.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:13 PM on November 17, 2007


I figure they can make more factories, y'know? Me want.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2007


Doesn't ubiquitous mean "everywhere" and not "dominant?" That would be something like "preeminent".

Anyway, continue.
posted by selfnoise at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2007


OK, OK, I'm looking for cost info--where's a good explanation of this? I saw about 3 seconds of a video clip about a week ago on tv but don't see price info. Perhaps I'm blind today, related to my missing glasses. thanks.
posted by etaoin at 12:39 PM on November 17, 2007


This looks promising too, unfortunately it is for lease only. Sort of reminds me of this vehicle.
posted by haikuku at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2007


If it's cheap enough, I'm going to be under it (with it on my roof). Installed cost for current home solar is about $10/Watt. That would take about 30 years to pay me back for the installation.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2007


If I can't buy it in Home Depot it's not ubiquitous. I want this to happen but that doesn't make it so.
posted by Skorgu at 1:04 PM on November 17, 2007


This is fantastic. Solar power will never be a complete answer, because you're always going to have the problem that it's too expensive to store power, so there will still need to be plants for when it's cloudy or dark. But if solar really were cheaper than coal, the ability to shift demand during the day from coal plants to a disaggregated grid is just beyond exciting.

Now, how to convince GM to make the roof of the Chevy Volt out of this stuff...
posted by Dasein at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2007


Wow, I had heard about Nanosolar before but more in a "gee-whiz" context than in the context of being about to produce 430 megawatts of installed capacity a year. For comparison, wind power (which currently dominates solar) has something like 1 or 1.5 gigawatts of installed capacity in the U.S. It sounds like solar might be about to catch up.

Some googling produced an interesting interview with Nanosolar's CEO.
posted by A dead Quaker at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


If this technology works well, it's only a matter of time. I mean, building a factory in San Jose? For the price of the real estate alone you could probably build a dozen or more of the same factory in China. And someone will.
posted by mullingitover at 1:20 PM on November 17, 2007


That would take about 30 years to pay me back for the installation.

Last time I ran the numbers, solar for my location at current prices would never pay off. Never, ever. Not even close. Do not forget to apply a discount rate. 5 to 10 times cheaper sounds about right to make it economically worth doing.

Now we need another 200 factories just like it.

If you had just ten more factories like it, each putting out 430mW of solar capacity per year, in ten years solar power could be making up a very substantial fraction of US power generation. They don't even really have one yet, but twenty years from now, it might finally have arrived at the point where one could reasonably call it ubiquitous. Hope so.
posted by sfenders at 1:27 PM on November 17, 2007


yeah, er, I meant megawatts. "mW" would be milliwatts I guess.

I want my cheap solar panels already. I want to go buy them at Wal-Mart. I would also like them to be thin, flexible, light-weight, and indestructible please. Thanks in advance, modern technology.
posted by sfenders at 1:36 PM on November 17, 2007


It's true that it's premature to say the age of solar is a done deal before this technology proves itself in both the field and the marketplace on the kind of scale that's being proposed. On the other hand, this shouldn't overshadow the fact that this is a very, very big deal for solar. The printing process and alternative materials they describe wipe out several of the major intractable drawbacks of photovoltaic solar.

I'll believe cost figures when I see them analyzed in that 1.4-megawatt power plant the European consortium is building or something like it (particularly if they bother to mention little details like whether they're talking the full install costs or operating costs). But presuming the details about the technology that is being described are correct, it's just bound to be significantly cheaper (and a thin film technology is inherently more versatile).

They're attracting big name financial backers and top-tier electronics industry executives. They've got a boatload of patents, favorable license agreements on a bunch more, and they've already sold a ton of output from these factories they're building. I'm going to just throw caution to the wind on this one and be optimistic.
posted by nanojath at 1:39 PM on November 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


But presuming the details about the technology that is being described are correct, it's just bound to be significantly cheaper (and a thin film technology is inherently more versatile).

I think the versatility is important regardless of whether it's cheaper. But even slightly cheaper is important.

I keep thinking of how the awful poverty in places like Haiti might be relieved if we could supply cheap energy from a solar tower or some other source. That's not a country with a whole lot of choices, compared to us. Even changing the economics slightly could make a big difference.

In fact, I really wish someone would build a solar film factory in Haiti.
posted by dhartung at 1:53 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


nanojath, spokesman for Nanosolar!
posted by Eekacat at 2:44 PM on November 17, 2007


The next challenge (among others) will be producing enough copper to supply the alloys used in this film. It's great news that someone seems to have cracked the flexibilty/cost problems with PV, but it's no magic solution. The stuff still has to be mass produced from energy and material inputs, and we know nothing at the moment about whether those inputs will be scaleable in the long-term.
posted by kowalski at 3:46 PM on November 17, 2007


Everyone seems to be interested in how appealing this will be to homes and businesses in the U.S. (the article notes that the plant will produce more more megawatts of solar power than the U.S. currently has), but I think the most important use for this technology will be in developing nations, and sub-saharan Africa in particular. Researchers (source and source) think that one the biggest obstacles to industrialization, governance, communication, development in that region is how completely impossible it is, and has always been, to get around, combined with a relatively dispersed population distribution (Collier finds that one of the major determinants of a developing nation's economic growth is whether it's landlocked).

In the case of electrical infrastructure, that's particularly sucky because of how many fewer people you can reach with x miles of wiring, and how much electricity gets lost to heat as its carried through wires over long distances, not to mention the challenge of building a regular power plant in those remote regions in the first place. By allowing electricity to be generated at-site, with low capital costs- it looks like you don't even need to wire the village- this solves both problems. Given how much attention that kid in Malawi got this year for building an electricity-generating windmill out of scrap, costing about $16 and generating about 30 watts (roughly the same same overall cost per watt), it appears there's definitely a need for cheap, unconventional power generation there. Maybe the OLPC people can include documentation on how to wire some of these sheets up to their boxes.
posted by gsteff at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2007


Last time I ran the numbers, solar for my location at current prices would never pay off. Never, ever.

When was that "last time"? I ran the numbers a couple years ago for New Hampshire (which gets about 3 minutes of full sun per year) and it paid off in about 10-15 years.
posted by DU at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2007


Solar power will never be a complete answer, because you're always going to have the problem that it's too expensive to store power

Not necessarily. If electric cars and high-capacity hybrids become the norm (which, I'd say will happen over the next 10 years), then you simply tap into that resource. I was at an EV conference, and one of the presenters shared his idea -- people only use their cars about 3 hours a day, which means the other 21 hours can be spent recharging, or storing energy and feeding it back into the grid based on demand. Essentially, parked cars would serve as a giant battery bank for the state. Of course, the logistics would all be dealt with accordingly (e.g. you obviously need power in your car to use it, so it would only discharge the battery when it knows it's going to be idle for some time).
posted by spiderskull at 6:32 PM on November 17, 2007


I ran the numbers a couple years ago for New Hampshire (which gets about 3 minutes of full sun per year) and it paid off in about 10-15 years.

I can't help but be a bit skeptical of that claim. Even at New Hampshire rates for electricity (about 15 cents per kWh?), my calculator says that with a 5% discount rate (which is fair enough if you expect moderate-to-high inflation affecting electricity prices), and if you could manage to get a system that supplied all your needs for $5/Wp (a very good price), and figuring 6 sun-hours per day (Boston gets 4.3), then you might just break even after about 30 years.

That more or less agrees with the charts over at solarbuzz.com, so I think you must've added it up the wrong way, unless you're including some kind of big government subsidy.
posted by sfenders at 10:05 PM on November 17, 2007


There are some tax incentives for installing home photovoltaic systems, but they aren't huge.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:01 AM on November 18, 2007


I gotta say, this list makes me think we -can- innovate our way out of energy and climate issues: Nanosolar, sure, but also Hybrid Trains, Plug-in Hybrids (Chevy Volt), Partial Zero- Emissions, and Marine Current Turbines.... I love living in the future.

Also, this Moxi HD multiroom DVR finally answers this old askme of mine.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:09 AM on November 18, 2007


Can I use it to charge my Segway?
posted by leapfrog at 5:15 AM on November 19, 2007


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