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New Solar Panel Technology Gaining Momentum 181

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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:08AM (#16630964)
    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.
  • Re:Silicon shortage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hankwang ( 413283 ) * on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:13AM (#16630982) Homepage
    I thought silicon was abundant ..

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

  • by gsyswerda ( 550684 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @08:50AM (#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 hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:22AM (#16631380) Homepage Journal
    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 like Arizona, which have a large daytime/nightime temperature differential.
  • by starseeker ( 141897 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:45AM (#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 billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @07:18PM (#16636326) Journal
    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 generate power, though there are still radioactive waste issues because used reactor parts and containment domes are still likely to get hit with neutrons and therefore become radioactive, but there'd presumably be less of that that with fission. But that's not what most of the research is about.

  • Re:Silicon shortage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arminw ( 717974 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @09:10PM (#16637230)
    ....Solar energy is just a temporary feel-good stopgap for the naive......

    Perhaps not solar energy per-se, but just the idea of converting light directly into electricity with expensive to produce materials. Plants have perfected the process of capturing solar energy and converting it into useable energy forms. It seems utilizing this tried and true process to make some kind of bio-fuel would be a preferable way to go for large scale energy production, especially for transportation. Making a flexible fuel, such as bio-diesel from plant material grown on land or sea and then using the existing fuel handling and distribution infrastructure is a more viable way to go for now. Perhaps, 20 years from now (historically ALWAYS 20 years from now) local fusion reactors will become the means of providing abundant energy. Until then, using the fusion reactor which is 93 million miles distant is the only practical long term alternative to the fossil fuels.
  • Re:Silicon shortage? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by catprog ( 849688 ) on Sunday October 29, 2006 @11:02PM (#16638028) Homepage
    Current the energy to make a solar panel is about 2 years of the panel's output.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak