Printed solar panels could bring power to the masses—on the cheap.
The solar industry is slowly growing, but for many, installing solar panels is too costly and inconvenient for the benefits. A new development out of Australia could change that, though. A University of Newcastle innovation could put solar tech almost anywhere—more cheaply and more quickly than with current solar panels.
Professor Paul Dastoor and the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Organic Electronics have been working on printed solar panel technology. The team makes these by printing electronic ink (using a standard printing press) onto transparent laminate sheets. The non-toxic panels can then be installed for about $7.42 per square meter—which equals about 69 cents per square foot. That’s significantly cheaper than Tesla’s Solar Roof project, which costs $21.85 per square foot.
“No other renewable energy solution can be manufactured as quickly,” Dastoor said in a press release. “The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting.”
As to the ease of manufacturing, Dastoor says that if they had merely 10 of these printers working 24/7, they could print enough solar material for 1,000 homes each day. Right now, the system is being tested out in a 100-square meter demonstration site. There, Dastoor’s team can properly analyze the panels’ performance in large-scale, real-world conditions.
This demonstration will also give researchers a chance to test the durability of these panels. The panels are so lightweight, they can be rolled out onto a roof with Velcro.
The team hasn’t detailed exactly how much energy these printed solar panels produce (perhaps because they’re still determining that). However, Dastoor’s team knows that this technology is better at delivering constant power in low light and cloudy conditions. In fact, it can even produce a small amount of energy from moonlight.
In the U.S., somewhere between 1 and 2 million residents currently have solar panels installed on their homes. Printed, flexible solar cells like this could help bolster adoption even faster. And although printed solar panels could be useful on homes or on businesses, Dastoor sees these printed strips being particularly useful for the 1.2 billion people who don’t have access to any electricity. It could also be quickly deployed in disaster relief scenarios.
Dastoor’s technology already has interest from a commercial partner, so we could see printed panels rolling out sooner than later.