You may well have read a recent post we did on the breakthrough Nanosolar technology (a lot of people did!). Well, here's a brief update. The Nanosolar blog has just made a rather special announcement:
After five years of product development – including aggressively pipelined science, research and development, manufacturing process development, product testing, manufacturing engineering and tool development, and factory construction – we now have shipped first product and received our first check of product revenue. ... Today we are announcing that we have begun shipping panels for freefield deployment in Eastern Germany and that the first Megawatt of our panels will go into a power plant installation there.
As far as the first three of our commercial panels are concerned: Panel #1 will remain at Nanosolar for exhibit. Panel #2 can be purchased by you in an auction on eBay starting today. Panel #3 has been donated to the Tech Museum in San Jose. - Nanosolar
Trivia: When I first spotted this news a few days ago, the collectable second panel had attracted bids over $10,500. I checked again just now, to discover it had disappeared from Ebay. Nanosolar explains. Auctioning aside, Nanosolar are selling their ultra-thin film solar panels for a mere 90 cents p/watt. Their production costs, said to be 30 cents p/watt, make this a very profitable enterprise, and one that begins to really compete with traditional dirty fossil fuel energy options:
Cost has always been the burdening factor weighing down the mass application of solar technology at nearly $3 per watt. In order to compete with the energy produced from coal solar has been in need of finding a way to shrink its costs down to $1 per watt. Nanosolar's cells use absolutely no silicon as is the standard for current solar production and the efficiency of the PowerSheet cells are competitive with the traditional systems as well. The golden kicker, the cost to produce these solar coatings is a mere 30 cents per watt!! - ENN
There will be enormous demand, so don't expect this price to come down much further in the short term. But, if Nanosolar can get these out the door for 90c p/watt, despite an oil-industry biased and uncooperative federal government, imagine where we could be if these guys were actually supported. If we can scale production of this system up, then covering our buildings and vehicles with a solar surface starts to become enonomically viable. Imagine turning our homes into energy generators rather than energy vacuums. When we ran our last post on this, I tried to locate details for the sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency. The best I could find were speculations and/or dated statements from a few years ago that pegged Nanosolar anywhere between 10-19% efficiency. The Nanosolar site is short on specifics - they are notoriously tight-lipped about the efficiency rating - but they state their panels have:
... the world’s highest-current thin-film solar panel – delivering five times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market today and thus simplifying system deployment... - Nanosolar
Wikipedia has an updated snippet that adds to the mystery:
The company uses Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide—which can achieve up to 19.5% efficiency—to build their thin film solar cells. - Wikipedia
Just because the material can achieve 19.5% efficiency, doesn't necessarily mean that they are in practice. A little digging and I found a PDF in German (as, you'll remember, Nanosolar's first shipment of panels went to a power plant installation in Eastern Germany). My German is a bit rusty (actually, it's totally corroded), but the document indicates they have an efficiency rating of 13.95%. This is pretty standard - but where the gains are made are in the ultra-thin construction and its ability to be printed like paper, fast and cheap. I'm no solar guru - so look forward to some of our readers sharing more info on this. If you're interested in who else is trying to drive down the clean energy road via solar thin film -- check out this great list from Earth2Tech.