Australia is spearheading solar cell technology with low-cost organic solar panels that can be printed using conventional printers, paving the way for a ground-breaking new market for renewable energy.
Developed by University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor and his team, the printed solar cells come in the form of a roll of ultra lightweight laminate material installed using standard industrial double-sided adhesive tape. First revealed last year, the technology is now being used commercially for the first time - on the factory roof of Brambles-owned company CHEP, a pallet repair facility in Newcastle.
While solar panels usually imply bulky silicon cells, aluminum structures, and heavy installation, this new technology will be as elementary as printing out the solar panels and sticking them on the roof. The material is similar in texture and flexibility to a "potato chip packet" and costs less than $10 per square meter. This new way of producing solar power could really see the technology adopted very widely and very quickly.
According to The Guardian, Dastoor believes that the invention could make signing up for energy accounts quite straightforward, without any big immediate investment. The physicist claims that it would be easy for companies to sell energy “plans” for consumers to sign up in the same way they do with mobile phones.
“In future, we expect users might sign onto this energy solution in a similar way to a mobile phone plan, where you determine your usage requirements, pay a monthly service fee, but never need to own the infrastructure. The service provider installs and upgrades your service for you as the technology continues to develop.”
Although printed solar technology is not as efficient as silicon-based solar panels and degrades much faster, the low-cost of production and installation makes it competitive with traditional solar power, according to Dastoor. The university’s lab-scale printer can produce hundreds of meters of solar sheeting each day. The physicist adds that upgrading to commercial-scale printing would increase this output to kilometers per day and that no other renewable technology can be manufactured as quickly.
For Dastoor, “the installation reflects CHEP’s culture of embracing innovation to make the world a better place.” Phillip Austin, President of CHEP Asia-Pacific, believes that the partnership highlights how private enterprise and science can and need to unite to solve global problems.
In six months, the team will remove the pilot installation and recycle the material. The technology will become more widely available in the next few years and this could be a real renewable energy game changer.