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Laser Scribing Promises More Efficient Solar Cells

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the new-and-improved dept.

Technology 97

cylonlover writes "A new manufacturing method that incorporates laser technology may result in thin film solar panels that are less expensive and more efficient than anything presently on the market. Currently, a stylus is used to mechanically etch microchannels into such panels, which electrically connect the individual solar cells and allow them to form an array. Researchers from Indiana's Purdue University, however, are developing a technique in which an ultrafast pulsing laser is used to do the etching. Not only will it hopefully be quicker and cheaper than mechanical 'scribing,' but it should also produce cleaner, sharper microchannels that offer superior performance."

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With all these recent findings... (2)

Panspechi (948400) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476830)

Won't solar panels be so cheap in 5 years that only rich people will burn candles and/or oil?

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35476850)

Funny. What goes around comes around?

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476918)

Would solar panels (photovoltaics etc) be cheaper than using reflectors e.g. solar thermal?

If we are going to cover a total of 100km by 100km (or more) with panels the material costs are significant.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476956)

I am betting that if you look at the service life of both systems PV might still be cheaper. A lot of the energy cost of manufacturing PV cells is in heating up masses of silicon so maybe a plant could make its own cells and use solar thermal power for part of that process. A solar thermal system would need a lot of maintenance while PV cells just sit there and push electrons around. And mirrors aren't cheap either. I wonder what their manufacturing cost is vs PV cells?

Re:With all these recent findings... (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477852)

A solar thermal system would need a lot of maintenance while PV cells just sit there and push electrons around

As someone who has worked with electronics for over 30 years, I beg to disagree. Imagine the number of bad joints in the billions of cells that would be needed to replace one large electric power plant.

Assuming a size of 10cm x 10cm for each cell, that's a hundred cells per square meter, a hundred million cells per square kilometer, at least two hundred million soldered joints. All that to generate no more than 1000 MW at noon on a sunny day.

With wind slightly bending and moving each panel, dust, dew condensation, oxidation, temperature variations, and all other factors that are always causing electrical contacts to fail, my guess is that PV cells are not scalable to the dimensions needed to replace a significant part of our society's electric consumption.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477922)

my guess is that PV cells are not scalable to the dimensions needed to replace a significant part of our society's electric consumption.

Maybe but we were comparing PV with solar thermal. A thermal power system would have to be powered down and cooled every night. Components will expand and shrink. They will fatigue and fail. Pumps and heat exchangers would need ongoing maintenance. I suspect that faulty PV panels would just be replaced and their materials recycled. They are not 100% reliable, but still more reliable than most things with moving parts.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478216)

The problem is in the sheer number of cells needed. With hundreds of millions of cells, even assuming zero cost for a replacement cell, the cost of finding and replacing the failed cells would be significative. Thermal cycling would be a factor causing degradation of a solar thermal plant, sure, but it would also affect PV.

If I had to choose a solar plant design, I would go for a linear alternator powered by a free piston Stirling engine [wikipedia.org] . Stirling engines are more expensive than other thermal engines, but that's mostly because they are made in smaller numbers. There is at least one prototype system [srpnet.com] based on this principle in Arizona.

Re:With all these recent findings... (2)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#35480644)

If you're carpeting Arizona with solar cells, you can probably do what Google does: just ignore the failures until enough of a unit is bad to justify the manpower, then pull it.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

badkarmadayaccount (1346167) | more than 3 years ago | (#35489618)

Thermoacoustic is more elegant and less maintenance.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

badkarmadayaccount (1346167) | more than 3 years ago | (#35489612)

Liquid salt heat tanks. Oh, and the materials for solar thermal are much more resilient due to their very nature. The mirrors would be practically eternal, and the number of collectors would be magnitudes smaller. Oh, and funny how incandescent lights burn out from evaporation way before fatigue sets in. Not to mention the many car engines that get started every day for many years.

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35493724)

Your comment indicates a lack of knowledge of solar thermal. It is possible to store the heat before using it using molten salt tanks, with these tanks it is possible to store enough heat to run the plant for several days, so they won't be powering them down overnight unless they just don't need the electricity.

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35481716)

Why does everyone think we need to scale PV to power plant size??? Get out of the box, crush it and start to think differently. Current best panel does like 20% efficiency. If we could get to 50% on same size, what would that do for a home with a decent size roof and the inclusion of local storage? You most likely have a 5 foot tall tank that stores hot water in your basement. Why not have a similar size device that stores energy for use at night. If you are able to cover a portion of your roof with PV and able to get 24 hours of power from 5 hours of sun, think of what that does for the old model.

The same goes for all the tolling douche bags who hate on EV. If you go home every night and charge up the car, then you only need a car that has storage for your max daily travels. Stop thinking about filling stations, that is only being told to you by the assholes that want to run filling stations and charge you an add on fee for electricity. And an extra fuck you to the troll that wants to complain about taking a once a year road trip in the EV car. Seriously, you are going to piss about a once a year trip????

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

spitzak (4019) | more than 3 years ago | (#35482688)

I think the engineers are smart enough to figure out how to make a solar power plant that keeps working even when some of the cells fail. Even though apparently you think it is impossible.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35483210)

Some (or a lot of them) may fail, but they eventually need to be replaced, or the power output will eventually be zero.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477962)

Solar thermal (for electricity generation, not just heating stuff) is really only effective at large scales: tens of megawatts to start with. You aren't going to put that on your roof; even the manicured suburban grasscapes aren't big enough. A several-kilowatt solar thermal installation, sized for a typical home, would be a terribly inefficient beast requiring constant maintenance and tuning. On the other hand, you can pretty much fit all you'll need for your own home on your own roof with photovoltaics. In other words, photovoltaics are much more flexible at small- and medium-sized installations.

It needn't be an either-or situation: I think that lifetime cost-per-energy for both technologies will become grid-competitive, so we should utilize both to the extent possible.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476940)

Unlikely.

When I looked into solar panels a few months ago, the case was still that the expense of buying, installing, and maintaining panels were so expensive that you would not begin to save money until after their warranty and estimated 20-25yr life span had already expired. It's going to take a lot of work to make these efficient, durable, and cheap enough that people are going to install them on a widespread basis.

Not to mention, having a battery system (so you can store excess energy for later use) complicates matters (and expenses). Additionally, they're ugly and are not allowed by a lot of HOAs or city ordinances.

They have a long way to go.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35476972)

Here in Belgium, excess energy is fed back into the electrical system: your counter will run backwards - so will your bill - and you have no need for ugly and big battery systems... + the nature and stuff :)

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477030)

Without a battery system, you're stuck without power when your power company has an outage (which in certain places is more often than others). If you're not interested in saving money, you can just cut out the whole "solar power" thing and save yourself a TON of trouble by paying your power company a lot more money for supposedly "green energy" that supposedly comes from renewable resources and wind power and so on (right, suuuure it is). Also, you have to take into account the energy required to produce and maintain the panels in the first place. As it turns out, plenty of supposedly "earth friendly" behaviors and solutions turn out to be far less clean and efficient than promised (and sometimes, supposedly, moreso than the supposedly bad behavior).

Not being a millionaire, my interests lie far more with cutting expenses than anything else.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477164)

Don't get me wrong - I'm no eco terrorist as I'd like to call 'em :) - But hey, I like it when I see my electrical counter count down instead of up! Plus we get a crazy amount of 'sponsoring' from the government when installing solar panels here, which means that in some cases your investment is payed back in around 5 years.
About the power outages: honestly I'm 29 years old and I can only remember like 2 or 3 outages... so that's REALLLY not an issue here.

Re:With all these recent findings... (2)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478032)

Also, you have to take into account the energy required to produce and maintain the panels in the first place.

Can we please lay this tired strawman argument to rest? A solar panel will produce many times more power over its lifetime than it took to produce. Spend a few minutes on Google [google.com] and see the different numbers from dozens of different sources: they all indicate that, yes, solar panels produce more than they require to produce.

If that isn't enough, consider this very basic argument: if it really took so much energy to produce a solar panel, then you would never be able to recoup the investment, because the price of the energy it offsets would never add up to the original price of the installation. Since the financial payback period of a house-sized PV installation is 5-10 years, you can well believe that the energy payback period is something less than that (a handful of years). Given that a PV installation that goes up today will last 20+ years, you should be satisfied that it'll pay for itself in both ways.

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35478408)

I can see it now, 20 years in the futue:

NEWSFLASH- Citing recent findings by today's top scientists have discovered that man made global cooling is largely a result of mass solar panel usage, California legislature today drafted a bill that would ban the sale of new solar panels, and require existing panels to be phased out within the next 5 years.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

tenco (773732) | more than 3 years ago | (#35483956)

If the solar panels are any good, they will decrease earth's albedo, not increase it.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477874)

Here in Belgium, excess energy is fed back into the electrical system: your counter will run backwards - so will your bill - and you have no need for ugly and big battery systems... + the nature and stuff :)

That might be good for you as an individual, but last time I looked, Belgium is a country so small that It's totally in the dark [wikipedia.org] at certain times.

Re: in the dark (1)

vandamme (1893204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35489758)

Well, so what? People don't run their air conditioners, water heaters or factories in the middle of the night.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

morgauxo (974071) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478240)

It works that way in the US too. You have to have a special switch that disconnects your house any time the power goes out otherwise your solar panels can electrocute the line workers who are trying to fix the problem.

sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (1, Interesting)

bzipitidoo (647217) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477114)

That was my conclusion also. Add to that the high chance your investment will become obsolete, and photovoltaics are really not worth doing. I'd like the payback to be no more than 10 years.

Solar thermal, that is, heating water, is a better bet. No $10000 inverter and battery system needed to collect all those DC outputs and convert them to 120V AC or whatever standard you're on. Efficiency is much higher too. Last I heard, commercially available photovoltaics are still around only 15% to 20%, while thermal can conceivably reach 100%. At the least, I'm waiting for those 40% efficiencies labs are reporting on experimental photovoltaics. And better batteries, and cheaper inverters.

Had quite a few storm window salespeople try to persuade me to upgrade the cruddy original windows on our 70's house. I worked out the math for a 10 year return, and concluded the absolute most I could justify was $4000, and that was pushing it, being very generous with the estimates on energy savings and supposed increase in the value of the home. If it could be done for $2000, it was definitely worth doing. But they couldn't get under $6000. That we already have a fairly efficient A/C (12 SEER, not quite up to the current mandated minimum of 13 SEER) doesn't help their case.

I did convert a 40 watt fluorescent fixture to the newer slimmer 32 watt standard. That wasn't worth doing either, but it didn't cost much, and I was curious. 32 watts works great.

Does your HOA allow clotheslines? I use a rack indoors. Ditching the clothes dryer is huge, and most people have no idea. But when I mention it, I always see the knee jerk refusal to change kick in. People love the damn things.

Re:sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (1)

kmdrtako (1971832) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477598)

$10,000 inverter? What are you looking at?

I've looked at covering half of my roof with 16 230W panels (my house is east/west facing.) For that I would need a single $1,000 inverter.

Under ideal conditions though that would only produce about 50% of what I consume in a day. And conditions will never be ideal. Before subsidies I figure the break even point is around 16 years.

Re:sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477860)

Apples and oranges for your solar thermal and PV: the former gathers low-grade heat and the latter high-grade electricity. 1kWh of electricity can provide far more than 1kWh of usable heat (see the definition of a heat-pumps's Coefficient of Performance) and indeed the ratio is about that between PV and thermal nominal capture efficiency. (ST is more like 50% capture efficiency AFAIK, BTW.)

And I have my (small) roof covered with PV that generates twice what we consume in a year to make us net-zero-carbon. I don't see what you think is going to go obsolete about the grid or grid-tie inverters in the next decade which should cover my financial payback (though I don't much care about that as it happens). Inverters are nothing like as expensive as you seem to imagine.

Here's my site which covers what I've done: http://www.earth.org.uk/ [earth.org.uk]

Rgds

Damon

Re:sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (1)

WorBlux (1751716) | more than 3 years ago | (#35486318)

Apples and oranges for your solar thermal and PV: the former gathers low-grade heat and the latter high-grade electricity. 1kWh of electricity can provide far more than 1kWh of usable heat

depends on the size of the gradient.

Re:sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35488378)

Unless you're heating water wayyyy beyond DHW requirements, not so much. Look at my favourite "ECO-CUTE" CO2 refrigerant air-to-water devices. Indeed, pair a Sanyo HIT PV panel (module efficiency 18%+) with a Sanyo ECO-CUTE ASHP (CoP ~3).

Rgds

Damon

Re:sadly, most green tech still not cost effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477938)

...while thermal can conceivably reach 100%.

No, not even close. In theory 50-60% is possible with molten salt. In practice, 40% is very good.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnot_cycle#Efficiency_of_real_heat_engines [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_Engine#Efficiency [wikipedia.org]

That said, I agree that at the current time, for very large scale installations, solar thermal should be cheaper.

Re:With all these recent findings... (3, Interesting)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477120)

Agreed. I've looked into solar, and even in the best case, it's expensive enough on a household scale that getting off-grid and having it pay for itself is a very far-away proposition: FFS, the roof under the panels is likely to need repaired before the panels themselves have returned their investment... And nevermind ice damage (sure the homeowner's insurance will cover it, but at what cost?) or other acts of God: In Ohio, we gets every sort of weather there is except for hurricanes.

And so, such is the payback period on a big solar array that I often refer to the calculations espoused by solar proponents as being "new math."

That said, solar isn't always big and difficult-to-justify. There are other applications which are far more useful, and some of them are rather small:

I (just the other day) bought a solar panel from Lowe's, for the paltry sum of about $17, despite having shunned solar power for every purpose except for electronic calculators and other toys since I was a kid.

I'm not going to use it to help bring my house off the grid. And I'm not going to use it to solve world hunger.

Instead, I'm going to use it to try to spend less money on car batteries: My daily driver has been consuming batteries about once every 12 months ever since I put a Garmin GPS and keyless entry/remote start into it, and has subsequently twice left me to jump-start the car on very cold winter mornings. (And no, I can't be bothered with turning the GPS off: The time-to-first-fix is sufficiently annoying that such a simple solution isn't really useful to me.)

Sure, I could buy a battery with a longer replacement warranty, but it's a real hassle to get them swapped out, and screwing The Man in this way is (at best) dishonest. I could also get a fancy-pants battery like an Ultima, but that doesn't fit easily into my car, and it's not a solution that is likely to actually save me any money.

For $17, the miniscule several Watts of power produced on the brightest of days should serve well to keep things charged. This will reduce wear on the battery (fewer, or less-intense discharge/charge cycles), and will in turn improve longevity. (I live in the north, and generally park with the rear window facing the south: Rear-deck solar panel == Win.)

I expect to be monetarily paid back within the next year or two, or way more if it means that my existing battery never needs jumpstarted again once it turns cold out and the solar charger prevents me from being late for a job.

I'll likely also take it hiking, if I ever find the time to do any of that again: Keeping a phone charged for the price of a few ounces of photovoltaic strapped to my backpack sounds a whole lot more useful than keeping a bunch of alkalines on hand, and periodic radar maps from the Droid sound like they'd be a really awesome thing in the mountains (along with its battery-powered offerings of proper GPS and a backup magnetic compass in the odd event that I get lost and lose my other compass).

And depending on how my measurements in the car work out, I'll be buying another one for the battery in the lawn mower, since at this price even such a small and cheap battery would be well-served to have a bit of help over the winter and during the days when the grass is growing but isn't ready to cut.

I might even buy one for the 32-year-old Firebird, even though it has no history of battery issues (when I turn it off, it's off), just because it spends most of its days sitting in the driveway and it often goes several weeks (or months, if it's wet/cold out) between runs.

Now, of course: All of these vehicular charging applications would be more-effectively served by just plugging in a small trickle charger whenever they're not in use, but that's a pain in the ass involving extension cords and nonexistent outside outlets, any of which would cost more than this little solar widget did -- and I can't take it with me, plus the installation is would be more difficult and time-consuming than this simple solar panel will be.

Meanwhile, for $17 per 12V battery, I can avoid avoid all of these pains. And if this laser-etched photovoltaic should make them become smaller, cheaper, better, or all of the above. If it does, it will allow me to use solar in more places yet. Maybe, eventually, even on the roof of my house. This new development is just a tiny sliver of improvement, but if we keep getting tiny improvements like this then eventually I should be able to justify a somewhat large solar installation for my house in the middle of town.

I'll be the first to welcome solar into my life wherever it makes financial sense for me to do so.

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477272)

Except that the one Watt or so that you may get from your $17 panel, may not really be good enough to make any difference to anything...

Re:With all these recent findings... (2)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477438)

A low voltage cut-off costs less, it turns off the GPS when the battery hits 10.4 volts which is enough to start the car. It works with covered parking.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35488044)

I've thought of that before. Trouble is, a low voltage cut-off kills the settings on my stereo, unless I wire around it. But if I do that, then I'll also wire things to keep the GPS powered up, and the box for the remote start/keyless entry. And I might as well wire in the engine computer so it doesn't forget the fuel injection and ignition settings that it has learned...and then I'm back to not really having a cut-off switch at all.

Please recall that the root of the problem is that I'm already unwilling to deal with time-to-first-fix on the GPS.

I just want my car to start when it's very cold out without complaint or indications of low voltage, and without bothering to switch off the GPS.

I think I'll just install this nifty solar panel and see how that goes. Thanks.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

deimtee (762122) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477766)

Don't forget to stick a diode in the circuit, or the thing will drain your battery overnight. Pretty good chance they skipped that on a cheap panel.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35487182)

It includes a diode.

Thank you for your concern.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477940)

I've looked into solar, and even in the best case, it's expensive enough on a household scale that getting off-grid and having it pay for itself is a very far-away proposition: FFS, the roof under the panels is likely to need repaired before the panels themselves have returned their investment... And nevermind ice damage (sure the homeowner's insurance will cover it, but at what cost?) or other acts of God: In Ohio, we gets every sort of weather there is except for hurricanes.

The "traditional" timber, paper, and shingle roof is a total idiot boondoggle. Trusses, plywood, tar paper, tar shingles... all bullshit guaranteed to fail. Or you could have a steel roof which costs the same or less, lasts twice as long, and which can have thin-film solar panels applied to it with adhesive. If it's struck by hail it will dent but still function properly.

If you want to not kill your car battery with that charger you're going to need a charge controller. A diode will help you not murder it immediately, if your panel doesn't have one integrated.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35487340)

The "traditional" timber, paper, and shingle roof is a total idiot boondoggle. Trusses, plywood, tar paper, tar shingles... all bullshit guaranteed to fail. Or you could have a steel roof which costs the same or less, lasts twice as long, and which can have thin-film solar panels applied to it with adhesive. If it's struck by hail it will dent but still function properly.

Agreed, absolutely. But it's funny you mention this: My house has recent steel standing seam roof, and I'm currently waiting for a nice enough day to recruit some help to get a ladder up there and figure out why in the fuck it was leaking some during the most recent torrential downpour. :)

If you want to not kill your car battery with that charger you're going to need a charge controller. A diode will help you not murder it immediately, if your panel doesn't have one integrated.

Agreed, mostly. I plan on monitoring the voltage periodically, to see that it is sane. I expect that the parasitic load of the car+accessories will balance things out by itself, but if not, then charge controller it is.

My main reservation is cost: This panel produces about half an amp of current, on a clear day with full sun, in the open, at high noon, angled properly, and only then if the wind is from the south and the tide is out.

Shaded by the modest factory tint on the rear window and angled so as to not obscure visibility, it really won't produce much power at all. But every charge controller I've run across, no matter how ratty or cheap, is geared toward many-amps of current, and that's just not a scenario that is going to be happening, and is not one that I'm inclined to pay for.

The panel does have a diode built-in. It's a unitized thing, packaged up by an American company and actually (even at $17) sold at a small premium -- they've thought of at least that much. Hell, for the price, they even include enough wire to be useful, along with a cig plug and a set of battery clamps.

I'll bypass the diode if/when a charge controller happens, just to get another potential 0.7V out of it. But for now, I'm just going to wire it up and see how it behaves... and if I ever see it even think about going above 14.4V, which I don't believe is possible in my scenario, then charge controller it is.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35489558)

Agreed, absolutely. But it's funny you mention this: My house has recent steel standing seam roof, and I'm currently waiting for a nice enough day to recruit some help to get a ladder up there and figure out why in the fuck it was leaking some during the most recent torrential downpour. :)

Yeah, no plan is perfect. It's still better and easier to fix than the "traditional" stuff. The house we're renting needs a new roof...

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35480622)

Unless you only drive once a week, your losses for your car battery are high enough that the solar panel will be worthless, sorry.

Your car battery stores about 50 Amp/hours. That means to run it dry, you need to draw 1 Amp for 50 hours. The battery won't be damaged unless you get it below 50%, maybe even 25%, so let's assume you can draw 1 Amp for 25 hours.

If you are killing the battery in a daily driver, that means you're drawing that 1 Amp and probably more. Your solar panel probably outputs 5 watts on a good day. So, that's less than 1/2 Amp, which means it can't charge the battery effectively.

If you want to keep that junk on in your car (if you turn the GPS off, you'll save at least 1 Amp) you need to attach a trickle charger with automatic shutoff. It needs to be at least 1 Amp, preferably 2 for your needs (equivalent to a 24 watt solar panel that runs ALL DAY AND NIGHT). Your car battery will now last 7 years, like mine does up in the cold white north.

Sorry to burst your bubble, that solar panel would only be useless if you didn't have all that crap in your car drawing power all day.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35487774)

Dear AC,

While I appreciate the fact that you have attempted to consider some of my stated needs, I do note that you've managed to forget one: I'm not plugging my car in. It's too much of a pain in the ass.

As I've already stated, the best solution would be to plug the car into a trickle charger when parked, but I'm not going to do that.

I've thought about it. I've even considered such esoteria as a proper block heater, and a battery warmer. None of this is going to happen, no matter how much sense they might make, just because I cannot be bothered with plugging the car in. I don't want to run the snowblower over the cord, I don't want to snag it with a shovel (or worse, my boot), I don't want to trench a line in to eliminate those issues, and I don't want to forget to plug it in, and I don't want to forget that it's plugged in, and I don't fucking want to plug it in to begin with.

FFS, I spent 6 hours standing on my head on the driver's side floor, in the winter, in the driveway, putting the remote start in, when I could have more easily spent a couple of hours replacing a freeze plug with a block heater that would be better overall for everything and never drain the battery. Why? Because with remote start, I don't have to plug the car in!

Right? Right.

So, solar it is. It won't absolutely eliminate all issues from here to kingdom come -- that is obvious. But it will help some. The question, then, is this: Will it help sufficiently that I shall never suffer with a weak battery come next January? Your maths fail at adequately predicting this, so all I can say is: We'll see.

It's an experiment, and it's an inexpensive one. And if it doesn't work out, at least I've still got a nifty solar panel to play with. For the price, I might even add a second one in parallel if the first seems to almost get the job done (my meter tells no lies), and carry the experiment forward -- there's enough room back there for at least two of them.

Best wishes,
adolf

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Meeni (1815694) | more than 3 years ago | (#35481926)

You don't need solar panel, you need a new alternator for your car...

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35487598)

Alternator is good. It produces rated minimum current at idle speed, and rated maximum current at higher speed, within reasonable tolerances.

It provides proper charging voltage. I check it check it now and then when the car is running using the car's OBC, which has a 4-digit VOM built-in, and which I've sanity-checked against a proper meter.

Perhaps you're from somewhere warmer -- it gets rather cold here, and it only misbehaves when it is cold. When warm, things operate properly all of the time, no matter what manner of crap I leave switched on.

Given these symptoms, it's not an alternator problem: If it were, it would misbehave at all times of the year instead of only when it's been sitting for a day or two (or more) in very cold conditions.

I'd sooner suspect a weak starter that has a hard time making it past the first compression stroke when very cold. Hell, I'd also sooner suspect an oil viscosity problem or a combination of both, since I run 10W-40 in the car.

(But I can't find 5W-40 at all locally, or at a palatable price if I were to order some, and 5W-30 is simply too thin (according to both my observations, and the manufacturer's recommendations) once the oil temperature gets up to nominal for the engine to run properly and smoothly.

And then, even if I did run 5W40, there's the fact that it doesn't last as long due to the way the molecules are chained: The wider the viscosity range, the faster they break down... so even if viscosity were the problem (and I don't think it is), switching to a different grade of oil wouldn't save me any money. And that's the whole point of this little solar project: To save money.)

You know, it might (maybe, just MAYBE) be simple [wikipedia.org] : It might just be because I leave too much shit turned on in the car, and (as stated) am completely unwilling to deviate from that habit. The original battery in the car (of unknown vintage) worked for 4 or 5 years until it presented any difficulties, which is a point in time coinciding with the addition of the aforementioned electronic gadgetry. Subsequent batteries have behaved poorly, while the gadgetry remains the same.

Thanks for chiming in. But next time, please either keep your ill-informed advice to yourself, or at least ask for more details first before insisting on being both matter-of-fact about things and wrong at the same time.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35481442)

Are you saying that the PVs are ugly? As opposed to sheets of tar covered paper that have been sprinkeled with gravel? I have heard the complant that solar panels are "ugly". There is nothing ugly about them. The just are not what people are used to seeing. Composite shingles. Now that is ugly. It is just the ugly we are used to.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35491844)

a battery system (...) complicates matters (...). Additionally, they're ugly and are not allowed by a lot of HOAs or city ordinances.

While the specifics of American local housing policies (HOAs being one class of these, I guess) are unimportant, as someone who is reluctantly in the market for moving locations I'll have to remember to keep my eyes peeled for such restrictions. I know that the UK is not the "Land of the Free", and that I've never heard of any such restrictions in Britain, but I'll have to make sure to check for this sort of restriction and rule out apartment blocks/ houses/ streets/ districts if they are present.

If you don't smash people (those who promote these rules) in the face with a cricket bat, then they're just not going to learn. It's only once they've learned their lesson that you can move on to breaking their knees for punishment.

Re:With all these recent findings... (2)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477054)

I was thinking something similar. With all these advances in solar technology I keep hearing about from different groups, all with 3-10 year forecasts to be cheaper than conventional fuels, wouldn't it be cool if they all put aside the normal competitive "all-for-us" mentality of businesses and just got together and worked out a way of using all their new ideas in one product? By pooling their resources and know-how we could already be there.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477122)

I was thinking something similar. With all these advances in solar technology I keep hearing about from different groups, all with 3-10 year forecasts to be cheaper than conventional fuels, wouldn't it be cool if they all put aside the normal competitive "all-for-us" mentality of businesses and just got together and worked out a way of using all their new ideas in one product? By pooling their resources and know-how we could already be there.

Why would this be any better than usual competition? As things currently stand, no competitor is dependent on someone's technology not being vaporware. There's also the "hold up" problem [wikipedia.org] , where businesses, which should be cooperating, delay their output for advantage.

My view is that this technology needs to be proven first. After that, there's plenty of private funds for developing the coordinated infrastructure you speak of.

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

leaen (987954) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477140)

Won't solar panels be so cheap in 5 years that only rich people will burn candles and/or oil

But only for 15 years. After that we get free electricity from nuclear fusion

Re:With all these recent findings... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35479240)

Yeah, burning free He3 mined from the Moon! BAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!! Oh man, we're a funny team!

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

ferd_farkle (208662) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477324)

"findings"? What "findings", exactly?

The research project will continue for a three year period, by the end of which which the scientists hope to have established the scientific basis for their laser-ablation technique.

Wow! Lasers! This is the kind of news I get up early for. Will there be film at 11:00?

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477904)

Ha, I get my light from burning $100 bills!

Re:With all these recent findings... (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 3 years ago | (#35480070)

5 years sure seams optimistic to me. Right now, only rich people can afford solar.

Does Moore's Law apply to photovoltaics? (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476832)

It seems every other month someone comes up with a new technique to cut solar panel costs in half or double efficiency, & while they are getting cheaper, faster, more mainstream it's as though a clusterfuck of patents restricts the application to a single factory. I recall years back I was watching NOVA or Frontline or something where they where interviewing that photovoltaic paint company & they where saying they had a giant back-order & I just kept thinking...why not license the technology? You'll still come out ahead!

Re:Does Moore's Law apply to photovoltaics? (1)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476934)

No, Moore's Law would suggest exponential growth in power output. The problem is, there are only so many watts per square meter that the sun puts out, so you have a hard limit at 100% efficiency.

Re:Does Moore's Law apply to photovoltaics? (1)

heathen_01 (1191043) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478770)

If we removed more of the ozone layer we may be able to increase the max watts per square meter though.

Blast from the past! (4, Informative)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476834)

Laser scribing/ablation has been used since the 80's, for reducing the cost (and hence price) of solar cells. E.g. buried contact solar cells..

Using laser ablation to reduce the manufacturing cost of solar cells is so old news, that I almost don't even remember it, it has been so long ago.

Re:Blast from the past! (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476848)

Are you saying we got techrolled? Like that kid who invented photovoltaic hair?

Re:Blast from the past! (2)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476898)

We have much finer lasers now than we had back then, and we can control the pulses much better.

This means much finer channel creation, which means more channels, and thus more area for photon capture.

It may not be new but it has reached a new step.

Re:Blast from the past! (2)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477010)

We have much finer lasers now than we had back then, and we can control the pulses much better.

This means much finer channel creation, which means more channels, and thus more area for photon capture.

It may not be new but it has reached a new step.

When Intel introduces something new in their fabrication process (low-K for high integration, high-K for DRAM, etc.) you don't headline it with "Intel invents the MOS transistor!"

Re:Blast from the past! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35476922)

Yep. Look up papers by Martin Green, from the University of New South Wales.

Nuclear and oil problems (1)

h00manist (800926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477774)

After Japan and Libya, wind and solar are likely to get a bit of a boost.

Re:Nuclear and oil problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35481348)

After Japan and Libya, wind and solar are likely to get a bit of a boost.

Good point. I mean a tsunami wouldn't have had any effect on solar or wind right?

Re:Nuclear and oil problems (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#35481614)

Saint Reagan was right, we should build space based solar power collectors [wikipedia.org] . So we can all go green.
And I can justify my space-nuttery(tm).

Re:Nuclear and oil problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35482344)

Well the effort for air force in space started a long time ago. Wings or sails. As long as society runs based on the use of force, the use of force will accompany humanity where it goes. If we didn't to have military in space, we should start to discuss how are we to have no military on earth.

World Yellow Pages for Higher studies (-1, Offtopic)

globodyne47 (1988218) | more than 3 years ago | (#35476978)

World Yellow Pages for Higher studies.Find University, Institute, Colleges World wide & talk business.Free Listing www.kezkostudy.com

Re:World Yellow Pages for Higher studies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477000)

commodore6502 once revealed that it's possible to get such a bad karma score that you can only post once per day.

I guess this would be your post.

Some day, you will grow up and realise that spam is not an effective marketing tool.

Re:World Yellow Pages for Higher studies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477014)

Depends if you spam a trailer park. Wait a minute do those people even know how to use a computer never mind afford one? Or is that why my car got broken in to and my laptop stolen? I only live two blocks from the tracks and the trailer parks just on the other side of said tracks. Maybe one of those mouth-breathers will post something on facebook.

Association of Black Hole Builders meeting tuesday (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477034)

the AHOLEs are selling that same 'too many babys etc/gotta kill more' tome that's got us almost extincted? them, along with their well fundead cohorts, the genetically, surgically & chemically altered coreprate nazi mutant fear/death mongerers (aka47; eugenatics, weapons peddlers, kings/minions, adrians, freemasons, 'weather' scribes etc.., seem to believe that their fakest of all bad 'math' trumps our right to live? the topics; 'why doesn't diabolical depopulation debauchery always work as planned?', &, "why do we never discuss any plan b'? many may find that stuff unpalatable &/or dull.

no matter. we'll expect to see you at any one of the million babys+
play-dates, conscience arisings, georgia stone editing(s), & a host of
other life promoting/loving events. guaranteed to activate all of our
sense(s) at once. perhaps you have seen our list of pure intentions for
you /us?

pasted with permission 2naught1*

Re:Association of Black Hole Builders meeting tues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35482756)

Are you even trying to make sense?

Supply and Demand Problem (0)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477042)

Solar panels cost more per watt now than 5 years ago, and their lowest cost per watt was about 6-7 years ago. Even if we are getting more efficient at making them the demand is going up much faster, on top of that sooner or later we are going to run up against the limited availability of raw materials.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (4, Interesting)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477046)

Limited availability of silicon?

On this planet?

Not bloody likely.

The limiting factor will be the limited availability of the production facilities, not the raw materials.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (2)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477144)

Ok, processed material may be a better choice of words here, in the case of silicon the problem is often lack of purity.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35479160)

If raw material supply is not a limiting factor, but processed material supply is, then that entirely simplifies to limitations on the availability of the facilities that produce the material in a processed form. Which is what I had said.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477066)

Run out of silicon?????

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (4, Informative)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477080)

Source? You can pick them up for $0.98 a watt right now, or $1.76/watt for a complete system. Go to sunelec.com for where I found some. Are you telling me these prices were lower 6 years ago? I doubt it.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (1)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477176)

I admit I had not checked the prices at Sunelec lately which seem to have came down since the last time I checked about 6 months ago (a great company to buy from), I bought a 55 watt Evergreen brand glass front panel from them in 2004 for about $2.25 per watt which is less than similar size panels are selling for now ( try checking their prices for any panel under 100 watts most are in the $2.75 - $3.75, larger panels may be cheaper per watt now). Now if you think bigger is always better, it depends on your application, for roof top installations usually yes, but for sail boats, etc. this is not the case.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477344)

For very small orders, shipping and transaction costs are going to be much larger than for bigger orders. Sunelec would rather sell you $5200 worth of panels in one order than just over $100 in one order. Doesn't change facts, though : the cost per unit of capacity of solar is WAY down, enough so that it is practical for more and more applications.

And the recent disaster in Japan shows something : Nuclear power plants are very dangerous, and the cost to make them reasonably safe makes them so expensive that even photovoltaic solar + compressed air storage is probably cheaper.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (1)

Kokuyo (549451) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477722)

WHICH nuclear power plants?

Seriously, people... there's more than one way to generate power from nuclear fission.

Re:Supply and Demand Problem (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477094)

Solar panels cost more per watt now than 5 years ago, and their lowest cost per watt was about 6-7 years ago.

Not true. See, for example this data [solarbuzz.com]

GET SOME PRIORITIES!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477188)

The worst natural disaster in recorded history occurred less than a week ago, and you people are discussing a new manufacturing method that incorporates laser technology that may result in thin film solar panels that are less expensive and more efficient than anything presently on the market???? My *god*, people, GET SOME PRIORITIES!

The bodies of nearly 10,000 dead people could give a good god damn about the advent of LAN parties, your childish Lego models, your nerf toys and lack of a "fun" workplace, your Everquest/Diablo/D&D addiction, or any of the other ways you are "getting on with your life".

Re:GET SOME PRIORITIES!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35483022)

Besides exposing yourself as a hypocrite, what did you think you were going to accomplish with that post? Because you weren't just trying to get a rise out of people.

This has nothing to do with the subject but... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477242)

What is a "download zeus here" advertisement doing in my slashdot??

That time of the month? (1)

merlock18 (1533631) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477468)

Wow. Has it been a month already, since the last amazing breakthrough I heard about, concerning solar panels. Seems like i've been hearing stories like this since the late 90's. And, yet I still cant afford them. Sure, they are in my calculators... They are not in my car nor my house, nor any other car or house I see. I live in a pretty average middle-class neighborhood. What gives? I must have read over 30 articles like this in the last 5 years. (One every two months, I know) Why do I see rolls of these things in home depot for the price of a cheap carpet?

Re:That time of the month? (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35477884)

Sure, apathy is a great leveller. But if you put PV on your roof then there will be some on your neighbourhood.

While you've been musing, PV prices have been falling, and GWp have been installed worldwide.

I still don't own a car: does that prove that cars are useless and unchanging?

Rgds

Damon

Re:That time of the month? (1)

merlock18 (1533631) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478294)

Thats a nice off-topic dance you did around my points. I found a nice little article to bakc me up here. "At, say $10 a watt, you're looking at a $46,000 cost for a very small solar power system. " http://www.ehow.com/about_5347941_average-put-solar-panels-house.html [ehow.com]
No date on when this estimate was made. :(

"I still don't own a car: does that prove that cars are useless and unchanging?" Do you see new cars on your way to work or in your neighborhood? Do you see them changing and improving? My personal lack of ownership was a small portion of my argument. I also noted everything else I see as a source.

Re:That time of the month? (1)

DamonHD (794830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478494)

No, I'm hitting your points on the head IMHO.

I still "can't afford" a car. I decided that PV was more important to me over the last few years for example. And yes I see PV going up on roofs around me (and I'm working to make it happen faster).

Typical install cost of a typical 2.5kWp installation in the UK is now ~£10,000, which would probably be not far off $10,000 in the US like-for-like. That system will deliver about 50% of typical UK household's electricity consumption BTW, so you might have to double it to match a US household's usage, but conservation isn't that hard (we cut from 3x mean to 0.5x mean since 2007, see http://www.earth.org.uk/saving-electricity.html [earth.org.uk] for details).

I haggled my last PV system down in price by a factor of two: it's handy to know that deflation is happening and then force your installer to share their otherwise-inflated margin with you.

Rgds

Damon

Re:That time of the month? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35478754)

While difficult argue with the un-dated collective genius of e-how (aka: the idiot's wiki) I recommend you use that staw man in your coal burning stove and go over to http://sunelec.com/ for a realistic real time pricing. Your 4600 watt set-up will cost $425 for the panels. If it is going to cost you $45575 to install those panels, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn for sale that you might be interested in.

Re:That time of the month? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35479410)

Thank goodness for the anonymous coward and his solar powered calculator. That would be $425 per panel chucklenob. However at about $8000 for 4600 watts inc shipping, the major point still stands. Much cheaper than $46K.

Might, could, Maybe... Call me when it is. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35477656)

Already said it.

BP manufactured laser etched... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35478092)

BP manufactured laser etched solar cells in the early 1990s.

Yeah right! (2)

vvaduva (859950) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478230)

You know, I've been hearing these kinds of announcements from the solar panel industry for over 5 years now. Revolutionary technologies, breakthrough announcements...blah blah blah. Costs have not gone down substantially and I still haven't seen anyone breaking the $1/watt barrier, not unless you buy the panels by the pallet. I will believe them when they deliver.

Re:Yeah right! (1)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 3 years ago | (#35481448)

People are just spoiled by integrated circuit scaling, and get bored with regular technologies that don't get exponentially cheaper and better. I'm here to tell you that we will never see some great giant leap in solar cell performance or price like some people expect.There is limited room for improvement in solar cell efficiency because currently available cells output close to the theoretical limit that is possible for a solar cell to output (same order of magnitude at least). Even if you doubled the areal efficiency of solar cells (which is theoretically impossible for many cells, since they already output >1/2 the theoretical max), so what? It's only a factor of 2. People are used to factors of 2 every 18 months, but they are never going to see it with solar cells. Crystalline silicon cells aren't going to achieve a factor of 2 EVER. The only frontier left is $/Watt instead of Watts/area, and given the materials and processing involved I can't see solar cells getting much cheaper, at least not orders of magnitude cheaper. Integrated circuits got cheaper because they got smaller which uses less materials and leads to higher yields; guess what, you can't really make solar cells smaller...

WOW!! Yet another discover with solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35478360)

With the dozens and dozens of discoveries and innovations over the years, you'd think solar power wouldn't stink as much as it still does. It still costs an arm and a leg to get a system installed at ones house. The companies that do install at residences go belly up and the home owners are left with a colossus on their homes that can not be services. There are many homes within a mile radius, who have skeletal systems for solar power and no panels actually working.

There needs to be as much, or more research done in making the companies selling end user solutions viable, than there are in the panels themselves.

Germany (2)

Timtimes (730036) | more than 3 years ago | (#35478608)

Kind of funny reading the debate on whether solar is finally ready for prime time since I see it dam near everywhere here in Germany. The country is pumping A BILLION euros per MONTH into solar installations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany [wikipedia.org] Pretty impressive what an economy unencumbered by a couple foreign wars can afford to invest in. Enjoy.

Re:Germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35483478)

> unencumbered by a couple foreign wars
Oh, you want to politicize it then? What happens, then, when someone points out what a total boondoggle the German process is? They're dumping all that money into solar not because solar works better, but because they've gradually banned everything else in the most hypocritical way. (First they banned nuclear power - but would buy nuclear-generated power from France, and generated the difference with dirty coal plants). That eventually made solar "economical" in Germany, but only in the sense that they'd driven the price of everything else up artificially very high, while simultaneously subsidizing a solar industry in Germany (which they hoped would then capture a growing external market, although the logic there seems like it would fall afoul of trade laws).

Of course, now it's a couple years after the initial glowing reviews of German solar power, where the global recession meant the foreign market for their product never happened, and China being China meant that the German prices ended up not actually being competitive...

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