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New Solar Panel Technology Gaining Momentum 181

Posted by kdawson
from the turn-toward-the-light dept.
jessiej writes, "Even though copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), a newer type of solar panel, is less efficient than its silicon counterpart, millions are being invested in manufacturing. From the article: 'CIGS panels use far less raw material than silicon solar panels and the factories themselves cost less to build,' $25 million compared to $230 million in one example. These types of panels could even be made into a t-shirt logo."
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New Solar Panel Technology Gaining Momentum

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  • by also-rr (980579) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @06:56AM (#16630912) Homepage
    A debian logo on your shirt powering a small bewulf cluster of wearable computers computing Pi to many, many decimal places. What a talking point! How will the girls resist!
  • Silicon shortage? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by in2mind (988476) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:07AM (#16630960) Homepage
    FTA,
    Shortages of silicon have crimped sales in the solar industry.

    I thought silicon was abundant ..

    • Re:Silicon shortage? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zarniwoop_Editor (791568) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:10AM (#16630972) Homepage
      It is. Unfortunatly, to build solar cells you need crystalline silicon. These crystals have to be carefully grown and are quite expensive to produce.

      There is more info at ... http://www.howstuffworks.com/solar-cell.htm [howstuffworks.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hankwang (413283) *
      I thought silicon was abundant ..

      I suppose it is the production capacity of the 99.99999% purity grade silicon they're talking about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yes. Si is the second most abundant element on the surface of the Earth, next to oxygen.

      And that's the crux of the problem too. Silica (SiO2) is abundant (quartz sand), but SiO2 is a BITCH to break apart (the usual reaction is with carbon in an almost 2000 deg C arc furnace), you have to partially melt it or transform it into gaseous silanes (e.g., HSiCl3) to remove impurities, and then you have to grow the Si crystals in high temperature furnaces in very clean conditions. Some of the impurities have to
      • Re:Silicon shortage? (Score:5, Informative)

        by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @01:26PM (#16633716) Journal
        but SiO2 is a BITCH to break apart (the usual reaction is with carbon in an almost 2000 deg C arc furnace)

        You are partially right... I worked on a project where we were testing a new arc furnace design for smelting silicon (it was a DC furnace as opposed to AC). Wearing one of my hats on that project I wrote a computer model program of the mass and energy balances that took place in the furnace.

        My application of the physical chemistry and calculus have passed the haven't used it/lost it point, but if I remember some of the basic things correctly... basically yes it is a real bitch to actually split the silicon (Si) from the oxygen (however, silanes are not involved). It takes a tremendous amount of energy to do so. One of the reasons silica (SiO2) is so abundant is that it is so stable. Being so stable means that it is hard, thermodynamically and every other way, to break it apart. So while Silicon (Si) in the form of Crystaline Silica (SiO2, e.g. quartz, silica sand) is VERY abundant, Si on its own is VERY VERY rare. SiO2 is so much more stable than Si.

        • Typically the furnace at its hottest point will be around 5000 degrees C (a carbon monoxide plasma forms there).
        • The silicon metal at the furnace spout where it is tapped/poured from, is typically around 1400 - 1500 degrees C
        • The reaction is SiO2 + 2C -> Si + 2CO
        • The intermediate product includes SiO (silicon monoxide which only exists in gas phase at greater than 1400 degrees C) and SiC (silicon carbide).
        • Most of the actual reaction steps forming the silicon (from silica) happen in gas phase at obviously very high temperature.
        • The actual smelting process (chemically) is similar to smelting iron: reducing the base metal (removing the oxygen) using carbon as the reducing agent at very high temperatures. (Silicon higher than for iron.)
        • There are no silanes involved as you describe in the initial smelting process from SiO2 to Si.
        • With respect to the parent post about silanes: they are possibly created/used later if the silicon needs to be refined to semi conductor grade, but I don't know. I was not involved in this aspect of silicon refining, which is highly proprietary, and which I believe is (or was) protected by laws relating to national security).
        • The greatest use of silicon is not in electronics. It is in the making of synthetic rubber. e.g. silicone
        • Technically silicon is a metalloid... at room temp: non-conductive, 1200 - 1400 C, conductive, for example.
        • When it cools, it forms a metallic silvery solid that is very brittle, similar to bituminous or anthracite (hard) coal... which makes sense as it is in the same family as carbon. If you hit it with a hammer it breaks or shatters.
        • The main raw materials in smelting silicon are typically quartz, coal, and charcoal (and sometimes other more porous carbonaceous materials to improve gas permeability in the reaction bed. The coal and charcoal is for carbon content, not heat. The quartz needs to be quite pure... e.g. no or very very little iron etc in it (brown stains on quartz are typically from iron... not from wayward hikers.
        • In most silicon furnaces the top of the furnace mix is exposed to atmosphere, and is so hot the carbon monoxide (CO) off gas burns to CO2, which is inert/non poisonous (CO is as flammable as methane, but it is so poisonous that it is not practically safe to do so). Granted the large volumes of inert CO2 created is bad, but better than highly poisonous CO.
        • An interesting point is if you spill enough molten silicon onto a piece of iron/steel so that the iron starts to melt, the resulting reaction forming Ferro Silicon is so hot that it keeps reacting until one of the reactants is used up (e.g. until no more silicon or iron), or it hits enough of a heat sink to cool to solidification. We had a spill once that took out about 10 yards of the rail tracks some of our equipment rolled on, as well as some other pieces of steel equipment. All of which we needed to re-install or re-build in a couple of hours. Quite exciting, and a huge pain in the ass.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If manufacturing of these panels also costs less energy to produce the panels then this is undoubtedly a better option. Currently, I believe a typical setup takes around 2 years best case to start producing power rather than just paying back what it cost to make.
    • No, it starts producing power immediately. What you meant is it doesn't show any ROI for 2 years. Big difference.
      • by Locutus (9039)
        I thought the comment was about how long it takes for the solar panel to generate the amount of energy which equals the total energy required for the manufacturing of that panel. This point is when the device starts actually being environmentally 'friendly'.

        LoB
        • Eh, semantics. It's not producing any emissions so it's environmentally friendly from day one in my opinion. Anyways, we're just quibbling over split hairs here :)
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            No, producing solar cells requires a huge amount of raw materials, chemicals, and energy- which in the US, likely means it will come from coal and the release of a large amount of emissions.

            The solar panel needs to run around 5 years to produce enough elecitity to make up for the electricty used to make it, and several more years to make up for the emissions produced in transporting, installing, mantaining, and disposing of the device.

            The total emissions released in the entire lifecycle of an energy source,
            • Well, if we use coal to build solar panels, we are slowly replacing coal with solar cells. Which should be worth it. The further down the road we go, the more power used to construct a solar panel will be coming from green sources.
            • This technology supposedly produces panels at much lower cost than competing silicon processes. Therefore, at least financially you'll have paid off the purchase debt much faster than the 5 years you're talking about. How much of that manufacturing cost translates to energy debt as opposed to toxic-waste debt or other kinds of ecological problems is TBD, but it's likely to be a much better deal. And once you're producing power from the panels, you're not only paying off the energy debt of the coal/oil/et
    • From an older posting [slashdot.org]:

      "One manufacturer of solar cells even claims 0.85 years with their "Dünnfilmtechnologie" (is flat film a suitable translation?), see on page 3 here (Energierückzahldauer = amount of time for energy payback) . [antec-solar.de] "

      This is thin film technology (which btw is the correct translation) as well.

      Btw, the time in years is not what really matters. Much more interesting is the simple ratio of energy you need to produce to the amount of energy you can "harvest". Even oil needs oil to produc
  • .. you could have 'Solar Panel for a sex machine' on your T-Shirt and not be lying.
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Apart for all the sex-toy jokes, that would be cool if I could plug my cell phone to this.

      And no, I am not thinking about the vibrator mode....
  • Indium shortage? (Score:4, Informative)

    by in2mind (988476) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:14AM (#16630992) Homepage
    FTA
    Shortages of silicon have crimped sales in the solar industry. Although some analysts have said indium--the "I" in CIGS and a material used in LCD TVs--could be in short supply at some point, executives in the CIGS business have downplayed these concerns. Indium is actually fairly common in the earth, according to Schuyler.


    From Wikipedia: [wikipedia.org]

    The use of indium increases the bandgap of the CIGS layer, gallium is added to replace as much indium as possible due to gallium's relative availability to indium. Approximately 70% of Indium currently produced is used by the flat-screen monitor industry. Some investors in solar technology worry that production of CIGS cells will be limited by the availability of indium.

    Iam not sure about where Wiki got the figure from though.

    • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:40AM (#16631144) Homepage

      I am not sure about where Wiki got the figure from though.

      Me either, but the truthiness of it is undeniable!

      • You know, I heard that the population of elephants has tripled over the last six months. I read it somewhere, I think.
    • Given current raw material supply lines, I believe there might indeed be some limitations on raw materials. However, what I'm not sure of (and the really important question) is whether raw materials supplies could scale to meet the demand while remaining cost effective.

      Most materials involved with production of computers have had their refinement processes perfected over a long period of time. Indium, at least in the quantities needed for large scale solar panel construction, may still be an open question
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In related news, a Norwegian company promises cheaper high-purity silicon:

    International Herald Tribune: Norway's Orkla group to build new plant to produce high-purity silicon for solar cells [iht.com]

    Aftenposten: Orkla goes solar [aftenposten.no]
  • by jamesh (87723) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:21AM (#16631024)
    First they measure the factory's output in megawatts per year, presumably because a 1m^2 CIGS panel is not the same as 1m^2 Silicon panel (reminds me of a time when it started dawning on CPU marketers that Mhz wasn't a good selling point when your CPU could crunch more numbers at a lower speed than your competitors).

    Then they use megawatts as a measure of how much power a large coal plant could produce in a year.

    Why can't they just stick to libraries of congress? Eg the unit of measure would be that released by burnt all of the books (and furniture) in a library of congress.
    • by GotenXiao (863190)
      Wow, you guys have a library now? So how come the average American is still so uneducated? :P
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by antifoidulus (807088)
      Can we include just "congress" in your pyre as well?


      Oh hi friendly federal agent, of course I would love a cuban vacation let me just pa.............

      Remember kids, congress is better than you! Do everything they say without question.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fizzup (788545)

      This has got to be the first reasonable usage of the unit megawatts per year. TFA says that they can build a factory to produce "100 megawatts of solar panels a year".

      The astute among us at slashdot always say, "Megawatts per year, eh? Does that mean they increase electric power production by 100 megawatts every year? Duh."

      Well, in this case, yes. Yes it does.

    • The unit of weight of the media, the Volkswagen, is much more appropriate
    • by msevior (145103)
      The comparison to a coal power station is misleading. A large coal fired power station can operate for some large fraction of the year at peak power, say 85%, whereas the solar panel only produces peak power during optimum condistions, which doesn't include the night :-)

      Generally the best solar sites get 20% availability, so 500 Megawatts of production produces about the same amount of energy as a 100 MegaWatt coal fired power station.
      • I don't think they meant to say Megawatts/year when they talked about coal plants, as opposed to just Megawatts. (They could have, e.g. $100M lets you build a 500-MW plant in a year, but I assume they didn't.)

        Fortunately, peak electrical demand is in the daytime, so solar actually does help. Most of it's for air conditioning and for business use, and it you've got time-of-day pricing for electricity, it's more expensive in the daytime when the demand is high. And the places that get the most sunshine are

  • There you go. Just stay out in the sun.
  • As an EE, when TFA uses phrases like "[...] 500 megawatts a year.", it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling that the writer really knows science and engineering. (Sarcasm intended) It makes me wonder how good the rest of the information in the article is.

    For those who are honorably ignorant of what I'm splitting hairs on (honorably in that you're not trying to write about something you don't know about): A 'watt' is already a rate of something per unit time. If the energy produced was to be quantified in un

    • Able to output panels with total capacity of 500 megawatts every year? That would work.
    • by brunes69 (86786)
      I imagine he is using the term as in "mega-watt-years-" just like "kilo-watt-hours".
    • Re:bad units (Score:4, Informative)

      by andykuan (522434) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:52AM (#16631214) Homepage
      I think they intended those measurements to mean they are capable of manufacturing an aggregate number of solar panels capable of generating X megawatts in total annually. In other words, they're stating the total amount of power output they can output in a year. The confusion arises when the writer attempts to equate the annual output by a CIGS factory (measured in megawatts of power) with the annual output of a coal power plant (measured in megawatt-hours of work). My guess is that they are really stating that a coal power plant can produce 500 MW of power. Of course this indicates a deeper flaw in the discussion in that a coal power plant can continuously produce 500MW of power (presuming a constant supply of coal). Whereas a solar plant can only produce 500MW of power for half the day.
      • by xs650 (741277)
        The problem is that they aren't clear what they mean. I interpret it to mean that they can produce enough photocells in a year to produce X megawatts peak power.

        I submit that it the more likely meaning because it would be a bigger number and make them look better, while still being a legitimate measure.

        A more meaningful number would be $/peak kW of raw DC output for a ready to use array.
    • by amorsen (7485)
      As an EE, when TFA uses phrases like "[...] 500 megawatts a year.", it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling that the writer really knows science and engineering. (Sarcasm intended)

      He does seem to know what he is talking about. Perhaps you should learn to read before you criticise?
    • For those who are honorably ignorant of what I'm splitting hairs on (honorably in that you're not trying to write about something you don't know about): A 'watt' is already a rate of something per unit time. If the energy produced was to be quantified in units per year, it should be joules per year.

      Now that you want to start split hairs, I inform you that in the field of civil engineering the unit of measurement for energy consumption (for heating a home, for example) is calculated in Watts per hour. Cer

  • by BeeBeard (999187) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:32AM (#16631088)
    Or Universal Studios might go after you! Seriously, this is a wonderful innovation. In the past, making a new roof out of solar cells was so prohibitively expensive that states such as California had to offer homeowners incentives in the form of buy-down rebates, tax breaks, and so on [renewablee...access.com]--basically footing part of the bill just to get them using the technology. With the advent of CIGS, these kinds of environmentally-conscious bribes may not even be necessary. Cheap solar technology will now be far more accessible to people, companies, and governments. That is a Good Thing[tm].
  • You dont actually need that much material for solar cells, if you produce them the right way.
    The whole concept of those thin film solar cells is that you can get nearly perfect absorption of the light in less than 5 um thickness. Add a base layer, a tin-oxide contact layer on top, and some surface protection, and its entirely possible to make a cell 0.1 mm thick, only 1/10 of it using potentially rare materials.

  • by gsyswerda (550684) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:50AM (#16631200)
    What we need is a solar panel technology that we can pave roads with. There would be many advantages:

    - The land is already available

    - An industry already exists for keeping it cleared

    - Roads already extend to most places where people need power

    - Electric cars could be charged, and "gas" stations could service them. Same for electric trains.

    - Roads would become revenue producing

    • by niceone (992278)

      Yeah, then all we'd need to develop would be transparent cars.

      I'm joking!

    • I can tell you're a "big picture" kind of person. But in regards to this technology, I think that the more doable implementation would be to line roads with it--perhaps finally allowing for road markings that light up at night and improve driver safety.
      • by thePig (964303)
        I guess a lowly fluorescent marker will also do the job as well.
        • by BeeBeard (999187)
          I think you're thinking about road signs, whereas I'm talking about a substitute for the paint that is used to line roads and mark lanes. Fluorescent paint is not half as good as active lighting. The paint is subject to the elements and fades over time, becoming less and less safe in the process. Something that is only fluorescent is not as noticeable and safe as something that is both fluorescent and emits its own light.

          But now that you mention it, there are many places in the U.S. that don't light thei
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)
      Even with the improvements in manufacturing, it's hard to see this being economical, especially counting wear and tear.

      However, roads are _black_. In some places you can fry an egg on them at noontime. Why not some kind of heat exchange pump that converts the noontime heat differential into electricity by using the heat differential between the road and some kind of heat reservoir? Then at midnight, when your photovoltaics are useless, you run your heat exchanger in reverse. This might work in places l
      • by Halo1 (136547)
        Unfortunately, I can't find a link to it, but recently I read an article about a new social housing project in Belgium where the houses in that neighbourhood would get their warm water in this way. I don't believe it was used for electricity though.
      • by gbjbaanb (229885)
        Yes you can, and they do. I can't find the link to the full story I read, but there is this [invisibleheating.co.uk] which is being used now, partly to heat water and party to ensure that you don't need to de-ice the road in winter (as in this link [treehugger.com], all originally designed by this Dutch company [www.ooms.nl].

        Alternatively, there is a bit about what you can buy and use today in your back garden (not for tarmac road heatpumps, but ground heatpumps) here [south-derbys.gov.uk]
    • by cliffski (65094)
      you dont need panels that you can actually drive over in the normal sense. the panels could be mounted a few centimeters below the surface with some kind of replacebale grid over the top that the car tyres actually travel on.
      or you could sue them for the lane diviers in long strips, to minimise the extent to which they are driven over.

      im talking nosnense, but I really like your idea. If I was a billionaire, I'd bung you 10 million to develop a prototype.
    • If you look at road surfaces, you will see that they are "clean" only in the sense of being free of large scale obstacles. Tire marks, dirt, oil, and other random stuff is all over the road surface.

      Solar panels need optical transparency in their protective layer. Keeping roads clean enough to provide that level of optical clarity is just not going to be workable, except possible with nanotechnology.

      When we get self rebuilding roadbeds then solar roadbeds might be practical, but for now roofs are much more
    • In the US try putting panels on the backs of or mounted elsewhere on billboard signs.

      Also, the signage on bridges could be used for power generation as well.

      The only problem, if the stuff is recyclable someone will steal the materials.

      All rest areas should have solar powered facilities, or at least augmented.

      I think you are using the right of way that freeways have incorrectly. We could use that same right of way to put panels on poles down the centers of freeways or on the sides. The only issues are caus
    • by misleb (129952)
      Maybe if you're out in the desert with little wear, no weather damage, and no plowing/salt/sand. Most places I've lived (northern US) they can barely maintain plain ol' asphalt. I'd hate to see how poorly solar panels on roads would be maintained. They'd have to be extremely rugged.

      I'd rather see house shingles made from small solar panels. You know, something that doesn't have trucks diving over it daily..:P

      -matthew
    • by crhylove (205956)
      I've said this SO many times. Even if the roads were much, much less efficient than the crystalline silicon panels, the vast expanse of them would more than make up for that.
  • by edxwelch (600979) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:01AM (#16631276)
    If you deploy too many solar panels in one place you could use up all the sunlight. This has already happened in nothern Scandinavia and during part of the winter they now are in total darkness.
  • This solar energy story combined with previous gratuitous use of the "enlightenment" icon all point to one conclusion: Our own kdawson has gone granola! Make love, not wars, man. Peace in the Middle East! :)
  • by starseeker (141897) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:45AM (#16631530) Homepage
    I used to know one of the guys who went to work at Miasolé. He was a sharp guy with a lot of experience in CIGS and related materials.

    Slashdot has had a habit of posting the "next big solar breakthrough" which, in the fine print, is not so big yet but will be RSN. CuInGaSe2, on the other hand, has a long track record and previous commercial attempts have produced some solar panels with usable efficiencies (not great, but usable).

    CIGS has the advantage of being a direct band gap material, but there are some limits to how far you can push it in efficiency as a single layer device that have not been overcome. One serious advantage is that this material has a fairly wide tolerance on relative elemental composition - different ratios of material in the film will still produce a working cell within a fairly wide range. This is important because industrial process control has tolerances, and wider tolerances mean less expensive production. CuInSe2 and related compositions have some rather interesting electrical properties with respect to defect behavior that allow them to work in this fashion. Anyone with a real interest in this should look at some dense but extremely interesting work by Zunger at NREL.

    The biggest problem with CIGS as a production material is probably that it can't "piggyback" on the industry built up for the computer industry. I know that sounds strange, since its lack of reliance on that source of material is also its advantage, but tools to work with CIGS have to be developed more or less from scratch. That's expensive, and the reason that these initial investments are important. The process must be bootstrapped.

    CIGS of course doesn't address other problems with solar adoption, such as durability over time, public acceptance and investment, etc. But CIGS is a real material with real potential, and not simply IPO vaporware.

    Also of longer term interest is the idea of multijunction solar cells, which use different wavelengths of light on each layer and thus can push efficiencies much higher. Unfortunately they are also an EXTREMELY difficult practical challenge for production. However, there is a lot that can still be done. We REALLY need more funding for solar research in this country, and more basic research in general, but that's another post.

    Good luck to the Miasolé team!
    • by vtcodger (957785)
      And don't overlook the two problems with solar generated electricity over and above deploying the technology -- storage and distribution. It is well and good to generate a gazillion Megawatt hours somewhere between Mojave and Boron California, for maybe an 8 hour production day in July. But some years in December, we are only going to get power for six hours a day and some weeks only three days because it is overcast and drizzling the other four days (yes, some years it drizzles in the Mojave). How do we
      • While solar energy obviously won't produce power for you at night, without either storage or some amazing round-the-globe distribution system, it's still a major win, because most electrical usage is in the daytime, for air conditioning and for business uses. If you've got time-of-day pricing on electricity, you'll see it's more expensive in the daytime than at night, because if supply-and-demand issues. So at least for reducing peak loads and improving overall capacity, solar just wins. Additionally, pr
    • by cyberscan (676092) *
      I have been anxious for products for several years. However, I have been sorely disappointed by so called advances in alternative energy. I will be happy when I can spend a couple of thousand of dollars on this stuff and have no power bills for about 10-20 years. If this technology is as promising as many say, then it would be a very good investment towards improving national security. Imagine taking a small part of the money being used to bomb a country into oblivion and using it to get the U.S. off of
      • An alternative is to simply reduce the amount of electricity you need to generate in the first place. For instance, switching to geothermal heating and cooling would drop your electricity usage a good amount. Solar thermal water heating will take out another chunk.

        The major cost is up front, but that can be compensated for with equity loans - as you'll be saving on electricity bills over time, if the monthly payments are low enough you might just be paying less money monthly right from the beginning.
    • by misleb (129952)
      CIGS of course doesn't address other problems with solar adoption, such as durability over time,


      Doesn't the relative cheapness of the panels address this? Say they aren't particularly durable. If they are cheap... and even better, recyclable... then maybe durability is moot.

      -matthew

       
    • by gunpowder (614638)
      CIGS of course doesn't address other problems with solar adoption, such as durability over time, public acceptance and investment, etc.

      According to the first article linked in TFA:

      "CIGS also doesn't degrade in sunlight like other thin-film technologies."

      Actually I own a rollable CIGS solar panel [amazon.com] (not longer produced, and not to be confused with this one that uses amorphous silicon [amazon.com]). Whenever those panels pop up on eBay they create a ot of interest and are sold at a high price.
      I doubt there will b

  • Cost vs Efficiency (Score:3, Informative)

    by sfm (195458) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:49AM (#16631872)
    It is not the efficiency (W/m^2) that needs to go UP in order to make fixed solar generation facilities common, it is the cost ( $/W) that needs to come DOWN.

    I'll argue that for a typical small house (1500 sq-Ft) there is more than enough roof area to generate all the electricity for the house, even with 6-7% efficient solar panels. Unfortunately, buying current solar panels, this much energy would cost you >$35,000 !! (And that doesn't include batteries, tracker, inverter.... etc)

    If these guys can make lower efficiency panels that also have lower cost/Watt, it is a winning situation for everyone. Where do I buy their stock ?
  • by hey (83763)
    Of course a company called "Nano Solar" would get funding.
  • I find it amazing that given the enormous potential of solar power, there is so little money being invested. When it comes to fusion, governments invest billions in international programmes, yet invest virtually nothing for solar research. Why is that? Is it due to lobbying from oil companies?
    • Sure, they talk a bit about using Fusion for power generation and all that other Atoms For Peace hype, and there are a couple of astrophysicists who want to model the insides of stars, but almost all of the fusion research out there is really driven by the military. It's about learning how to build bombs differently or more efficiently or more tunably, and learning things to simulate in their supercomputers that can be used for better modelling of bomb behaviour.

      It would be nice if we could use fusion to g

  • by jelle (14827) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @12:29PM (#16633096) Homepage
    There are other promising techniques of harvesting sunlight, to only give a small sample: this one [physorg.com] uses buckyballs and gets 5.2% efficiency, and something sort of similar using pentacene [physorg.com] has similar promises, and this one [physorg.com] uses the all-famous carbon nanotubes to convert it directly into hydrogen (but for now it only works with UV-light)

    If this keeps up, we'll probably have a choice from a whole range of efficiencies, and more importand $/watt.

    There already are [oksolar.com] companies out there that sell solar shingles. They're not economical yet for most applications, but it's starting to come.
  • Great, does this mean we can cover the already flat, already ugly roofs of most commercial buildings with them? Can attractive "solar shingles" be made with them? Can them make up for less efficency with wide scale adaptablity/adoptiblity?
    • I think functional things are some of the most beautiful things in the world. Beauty is always in the eyes of the beerholder.
  • But will the t-shirt sized solar panels power a Linux tablet pc?
  • Miasole (Score:4, Informative)

    by ScaredSilly (746387) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @02:00PM (#16634054)
    I've seen the Miasole production facility and had a chat with the CEO and one of the engineers at the end of the summer. There're a few interesting things that TFA doesn't mention. First, Miasole claims the low $25M price tag for a 200MW factory because they build all of their equipment from scratch. When I was on the floor, they were building a single 25MW line which they turned on for testing last month. That cost them a grand total of $4M (in parts) to build. E.g. they've already done one, so the pricing is reasonably accurate. Subsequent lines will be cheaper. This will give them a huge cost advantage over other similar companies.

    Secondly, their production process is cheaper not only because material costs are lower, but also because they use a "reel-to-reel" process in which the semiconductor material is deposited on a sheet of steel which unrolls into the line, and then rolls back up on a reel on the other side. The steel sheets can then be cut and woven into a vinyl enclosure which can be rolled out on your roof like regular roofing shingles. Cool stuff. (They're probably going to attack industrial markets first though...)

    Third, the management team comes from the disk drive industry, and built the Seagate facility that is responsible for ~30% of the world's hard drives (could have the percentage slightly wrong, but is in the ballpark). Hard drives use a similar thin film deposition process, and they have built several other manufacturing systems based on thin film processes. This is why the are able to get such a low cost on their equipment: they have the contacts and expertise to build from scratch.

    For the record, I have not talked with their competitors, so I don't know the whole story, but Miasole seems very well positioned, and their facility is certainly real.
    • by khallow (566160)
      Interesting. Assuming that you can get the equivalent of 8 hours of full power for 300 days a year at $10 per MwH, that appears to generate $600k of power from a $4 million investment. A 15% return (not including inflation) on investment looks decent assuming they can actually deliver on that.
      • $10/MWH? I'm used to paying about $0.10 per kWH, which would be $100/MWH. Probably the price is lower in bulk, but I don't think it's that much lower.

        On the other hand, $25M is the cost of the plant - there's also the cost of the materials they use, which are presumably some reasonably high fraction of the cost of the panels. You're going to amortize the cost of building the plant over a few years, especially because it's probably most of a year before you're getting full production rates, and the cost o

        • by khallow (566160)
          You're right. I'm way off on my calculations. And you're right about the other stuff. I thought that they were talking about a 25 MW solar plant not a factory for making 25 MW of generation capacity per year (ironically I corrected someone else for making the same mistake with respect to the original story). Sigh, this doesn't sound that interesting any more.
    • I been thinking about setting up my own, homebuilt solar panel factory, and then I can save a lot of money by not having to buy the overpriced panels from these guys, just like they save money by not having to buy overpriced equipment from industry experts such as Applied Materials.
  • New Solar Panel Technology Gaining Momentum
    Actually I think that's flywheels that are gaining momentum. Alas, they don't get to keep it...
  • It costs $500 for 1 square foot of land in most of the world. Compared to the cost of open space, the cost of the solar panel is nothing. It's far cheaper to use more expensive and efficient solar panels than printing enourmous amounts of money for more land. In terms of the raw materials, the energy required to make a solar panel, and the land to store it on, you're better off still using natural gas and dumping the solar panels.

When a Banker jumps out of a window, jump after him--that's where the money is. -- Robespierre

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