Thin-film solar cell technology is starting to get hot. This week in Science, a paper by Marc Baldo and friends at MIT applies thin films, stuffed with organic dyes, to a piece of glass. This concentrates the light to just the edges, where small amounts of expensive PV materials can soak up the rays as much as they like. (see Nature news story)
This, the authors say, could provide solar power at, or below, the magic US$1 per watt that everyone in the industry talks about. But they had better get a move on because other firms are claiming to almost be there already. And the industry is full of competition for heavy investment, even in flaky economic times.
Silicon Valley company Nanosolar is already ‘printing’ solar cells, and making great claims about their manufacturing capability. And one news report suggests that they might already be selling their panels at a price that corresponds to 99 cents per watt. This isn’t clear from the Nanosolar website, and according to one analyst I spoke to, the company is extremely secretive about its operations.
Another start-up, First Solar, it is reported here, can make its cadmium-telluride films for about $1 per watt already.
If Baldo and his group have a device that’s half as good as they say, and if these companies are really producing high-quality solar materials for the prices they claim, then cheap solar power could really become reality, and soon.
Photo: The MIT team’s colorful solar concentrators; Donna Coveney, MIT