solar cheaper than coal

Too good to be true? Maybe. But the company Nanosolar claims to have found the holy grail. They claim to be able to generate solar power for $1 a watt, thanks to a revolutionary aluminum-based solar cell design. Here’s a clip from today’s “New York Times”:

Nanosolar, a heavily financed Silicon Valley start-up whose backers include Google’s co-founders, plans to announce Tuesday that it has begun selling its innovative solar panels, which are made using a technique that is being held out as the future of solar power manufacturing.

The company, which has raised $150 million and built a 200,000-square-foot factory here, is developing a new manufacturing process that “prints” photovoltaic material on aluminum backing, a process the company says will reduce the manufacturing cost of the basic photovoltaic module by more than 80 percent.

Nanosolar, which recently hired a top manufacturing executive from I.B.M., said that it had orders for its first 18 months of manufacturing capacity. The photovoltaic panels will be made in Silicon Valley and in a second plant in Germany.

While many photovoltaic start-up companies are concentrating on increasing the efficiency with which their systems convert sunlight, Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers.

Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal…

If true, the whole world’s about to change.

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8 Comments

  1. egpenet
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    The demand for silicon is tremendous. Chipmakers around the world are at or are near full capacity. Some chipmakers own or have huge interests in silicon-based solar panels … which are, as you pointed out … not very productive, except in huge arrays.

    Silicon panel manufacturing is laborious. The average solar panel manufacturer is totally dependent on the supply of silicon and processes about one ton of silicon every twelve hours.

    Dow Chemical and a Japanese partner have a modest silicon-solar plant in Michigan … Herkimer. They are looking for another location to build a totally green facility, and I have proposed to city planners they contact Herkimer to build in Ypsilanti (ACH or Motor Wheel).

    This new process, using aluminum may be the breakthrough we have been waiting for.

    … Relatedly, also in the NYT Magazine of two weeks ago …

    An Italian cement company is mixing titanium dioxide into their paving cement. In large scale tests, scientific evidence, as well as, anecdotal evidence showed a marked improvement in air quality in the neighborhoods where the cement was used. The titanium dioxide absorbs and/or otherwise converts the exhaust emissions of passing vehicles into harmless, odorless substances. “The neighborhood smells better,” said one person.

    (Personally, I’m excited. But I think, perhaps, the garlic in the air simply proved more powerful than the exhaust odors.)

  2. egpenet
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    You mention Google as an investor …

    Google is investing millions in “green” start-ups and “e” projects all over the globe … taking their gains and reinvesting them in the planet, into societies for all sorts of projects.

    While some groups … we know who … are working to hasten the Second Coming …

    Google has both feet on the ground and is putting its hoard of cash to work to slow global warming to a trickle and hasten development of a secular, democratic, healthy and prosperous global populace.

    Thank you, Google!

  3. Ol' E Cross
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    So, does this drop in the price of solar mean that the Ypsi Solar Initiative has effectively reached it’s goal?

  4. Ted
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m still not giving up on my dream of one day seeing coal sequestration on Water Street.

  5. John on Forest
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    But what is the price/watt of a wood chip fired boiler?

  6. egpenet
    Posted December 21, 2007 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if you can figure watts and btus, but a good wood pellet or corn burner is cheap for heat … don’t know if the fire is bright enough to trim your toenails, though.

  7. John on Forest
    Posted December 22, 2007 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    I can trim my nails in near darkness using the standard tool set. Much more light is required when I’m using a wood chipper to do it.

  8. Posted December 22, 2007 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    You can hear more about Nanosolar here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9716356

    NPR did another great story on solar energy last week. Efforts are underway to raise the venture funds needed for solar thermal power plants stretching across North Africa. Read more here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9716356

    A nifty map of a proposed European solar power grid can be viewed here: http://futurismic.com/2007/12/03/north-african-solar-project-could-provide-a-sixth-of-europes-electricity/

    The Independent (UK) reports on a proposed grid that feeds in wind power to the energy mix here: http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3194088.ece

    Gosh I love my home country, while Americans beat each other with verbose attacks on cable news and grumble “durka durka” towards mythical terrorists, god/guns/&gays, the rest of the world is figuring out how to get sh*t done without us.

    Thank you, Silicon Valley, for keeping us in the game despite our best efforts to devolve into fiefdoms.

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