Solar Panel Breakthrough: Efficiency per Cost

EE Times reports that a new method of using paints that collects energy towards the edge of a transparent sheet of glass, can be used for solar panels…

By absorbing light and transporting energy to panel edges, developers of the paint-on solar panels said they could lower cost by only requiring active solar cells around a panel edges.

Since the primary barriers to widespread solar power are economic, rather than technical, let’s mangle some math here to drive the actually knowledgeable people nuts.

Solar cells required per unit area:

Traditional, 200×100 grid: 20,000 solar cells

Newer Method, same grid: 600 solar cells

Now, that ignores things like the cost of the paints, etcetera… but it’s easy to see how such a breakthrough could have people REALLY excited, because as soon as solar can match coal per kilowatt, “comes the revolution.” Now, at around 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, solar, even if the efficiency is doubled, isn’t yet ready to bust down the doors of 4.5-5 cent/kwh coal. But 4.5 with massive air pollution and horrific costs to coal-country bystanders, against 10, with minimal production-stage pollution and NO air pollution, starts to sound really good.

Might want to start thinking about that plug-in hybrid. Expect lots and lots of hype over the next few days.

UPDATE: (yes, already) Looks like Wired has got an interview and basic tech explanation. Pretty cool picture, too.

While they’re at it, can they put on a UV-absorbing surface paint that is still transparent?  And where’s my flying car?

Leave a comment


  1. Alex

     /  July 10, 2008

    The paints that are transparent and absorb UV already exist – they just don’t last against other environmental damage. They’re already on your car, but you have to keep waxing your car to keep them in good condition, otherwise they’ll start to degrade due to microcracks, heat exposure, road salt, brake dust, and all the other crap on the road.

  2. Mike

     /  July 10, 2008

    This is good stuff. I recently did a cost estimate on how much it would run to power my house in OK with solar. For the whole thing, at a minimum, $60+K. There were some interesting ideas on how to get partial power that provided enough juice to equal a emergency generator (say 3000 watts, 4000 surge), but that was still going to be nearly 5 figures. My emergency generator cost me $400 with shipping for the same juice.

    If they can cut that figure down, I’m in. Not out of any concern for the environment, I just want energy independence.

  3. Mike

     /  July 10, 2008

    On that note, Homeland Defense-wise this thing is a great deal. What is a huge concern for the security of the US? Power Plants.

    How do you crash a grid if everyone powers their own house? How do you blackout an entire city or region if even 25% of everyone has their own juice? You can’t, its flat out impossible other than an EMP blast (and you can work around that, but that’s a whole different line of discussion). You can have a terror-proof, disaster proof power grid (urm, of sorts, some things are going to hurt no matter what) that CAN’T be crippled by a selective attack.

  4. happycrow

     /  July 10, 2008

    That, and juice that’s powering your dishwasher is doing less to heat your attic, so there’s a positive-feedback loop, too.

  5. I don’t think it needs to be a security issue: the portion of the electronics that allows export to the grid can be made to not accept the power. Power could then be shoved into a Marx-Bank and sparked off when not needed — the electrical equivalent to flare-off on an oil well.

    The other option is for the grid to maintain a low level of power and for houses to be assumed to also provide for power — this scenario works great for summer cooling, but for heating I’m not so sure.

  6. Mike

     /  July 11, 2008

    I don’t view the security thing as the main good thing about this, I just see it as an added bonus. That and good old capitalism, invention and free enterprise again torpedeos the psuedo-marxist environmentalists.

    “I am going to burn my AC as long as I want to because I am solar baby, so drop the guilt and Gaia kick.”

  7. JimDesu

     /  July 12, 2008


  8. Citizen Bob

     /  July 27, 2008

    Good idea – viable collection material has been around for a while, I’m just glad someone is finally putting up funding to develop it this way. Propagation after selection works on fiberoptic principles. But still,,, beautiful effect,,, and expect to see this one.

  9. Neat site:) will visit soon:D


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