Plastic Solar Cells  

Posted by Big Gav

There have been a few articles out lately about cheap - but low efficiency - solar cells made from plastic. As Jamais at WorldChanging notes, with a small boost to the efficiency it would become attractive to coat all sorts of surfaces in the stuff.

Researchers at the Danish group Risø have developed a polymer photovoltaic technology that would cost about 2% of current silicon PV panels: Risø claims that their new polymer pv should run about $15/square meter, as opposed to the $800/square meter they list for silicon. Moreover, this plastic solar cell has a useful lifespan of about two and a half years, which Risø claims to be a record duration for plastic pv.

So what's the downside? Efficiency. These cells have a conversion factor of 0.2% to 5%, as compared to common silicon pv at 12%-15%; photovoltaics in development have achieved up to 50% or so in the lab. What can you do with 0.2%-5% efficiency? At first blush, not much, which is with Risø is now devoting its efforts to increasing the power output of their plastic solar.

But the tremendous price reduction changes the equation a bit. At $15/square meter, it becomes much more economically feasible to add a solar boost to otherwise unused external spaces. 50 watts for $15 (assuming the high end of the efficiency scale) isn't too bad; I could imagine homeowners wanting to put this material on south-facing walls, rooftops, even patio umbrellas.

I'd imagine the stuff on north facing surfaces personally, but to each hemisphere their own I say.

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