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Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells Created At Stanford University

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the put-that-anywhere dept.

Power 46

cylonlover writes "Traditionally, thin-film solar cells are made with rigid glass substrates, limiting their potential applications. Flexible versions do exist, although they require special production techniques and/or materials. Now, however, scientists from Stanford University have created thin, flexible solar cells that are made from standard materials – and they can applied to just about any surface, like a sticker. The cells have been successfully applied to a variety of both flat and curved surfaces – including glass, plastic and paper – without any loss of efficiency. Not only does the new process allow for solar cells to applied to things like mobile devices, helmets, dashboards or windows, but the stickers are reportedly both lighter and less costly to make than equivalent-sized traditional photovoltaic panels. There's also no waste involved, as the silicon/silicon dioxide wafers can be reused."

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Retrofitting (4, Insightful)

GreenTech11 (1471589) | about 2 years ago | (#42381093)

As cool as this is, I don't see it solving the real issue with solar panels - the expense of retrofitting them to a house/office tower. You'll still need to invest in all the inverters etc, and probably a professional electrician (assuming you like your building not on fire) to use these in any large-scale application, even if they do allow a few more locations to be used. Of course, I'd still love to just whack a couple on my packpack to charge my laptop while at uni...

Re:Retrofitting (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 2 years ago | (#42381171)

I get the idea that charging small items is the main intent of this kind of cell. I doubt it's intended for peeling and sticking on large buildings.

Re:Retrofitting (1)

FirephoxRising (2033058) | about 2 years ago | (#42384561)

Are they translucent/transparent? It'd be awesome to put these onto windows, especially ones where some privacy is desirable.

Re:Retrofitting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381285)

What is their efficiency? TFA & TFS mention no loss of efficiency when applied to flat or curved surfaces, but how efficient are these "solar stickies" compared to currently produced solar panels or other pv cells?

Re:Retrofitting (0)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#42381289)

The problem with all this being green political rambling, there doesn't seem to be any real effort to look at and solve the real problem with our energy.

It isn't as much green energy, but energy diversity. Right now we are reliant on the Grid, and green energy designed to supplement the grid. While we really need to get away from the grid and go towards smaller scale energy production, enough to keep a small community running vs. these huge power plants that power cities, and span hundreds of miles, wasting energy to heat in the resistance of these miles of power lines.

Some communities have natural environmental green ways to produce energy, power from a small dam of a stream, or wind with with solar.
Other locations that may be void may have other methods including fuel cells with natural gas.

We can save the Coal, and Nuclear to powering larger cities.

These flexible solar panels don't solve the problem of making your house powered by solar energy, They are for powering portable devices, that while individually use little power tend to collectively add up. (Usually each little device has an AC-DC converter that sucks 5 watts when not in use.)

Heck we this we can have a Solar Power AC-DC converter with the Solar Power powering the electroncs to convert the current from the plug, saving the energy of these devices charging.

Do we? Really? (2)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#42383897)

While we really need to get away from the grid and go towards smaller scale energy production

Why do we "need" to do that?

Why can't we just try for a green grid and let those who want to get off and gain the advantages (and annoyances) of being off-grid, get off, just as it is now?

Why can't we mix technologies as we see fit, particularly if they're green, sustainable technologies?

There's plenty of sunlight. Solar cells work (albeit less well) when it's cloudy. A 40% over-capacity of solar cells, and you're covered no matter what. So there's a solution for off-the-grid folk.

But dense urban configurations don't have as much sun-facing area as a house in the country, and we can certainly create steam in ways that don't spew pollutants or leave significant residue behind.

How 'bout we not panic and aim for the middle of the road? It's probably where we're going to end up anyway, lol.

Re:Retrofitting (1)

sribe (304414) | about 2 years ago | (#42381389)

As cool as this is, I don't see it solving the real issue with solar panels - the expense of retrofitting them to a house/office tower. You'll still need to invest in all the inverters etc, and probably a professional electrician (assuming you like your building not on fire) to use these in any large-scale application, even if they do allow a few more locations to be used. Of course, I'd still love to just whack a couple on my packpack to charge my laptop while at uni...

Also, you need to mount your solar cells on a surface that is at an appropriate angle, and probably have no such surfaces.

Re:Retrofitting (2)

pla (258480) | about 2 years ago | (#42382391)

Also, you need to mount your solar cells on a surface that is at an appropriate angle, and probably have no such surfaces.

We only bother doing that to minimize the number of panels needed (and thus, cost). The amount of light hitting a given surface doesn't actually change based on mounting panels at the "right" angle, nor does even active 2-axis tracking hardware let you capture one Watt more than merely covering the same shadow-footprint with panels.

If the cost of covering every external surface of your house with solar panels wouldn't break the bank, you may as well do that in place of any of the more traditional siding options.

cell orientation (2)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#42383917)

Also, you need to mount your solar cells on a surface that is at an appropriate angle, and probably have no such surfaces.

This is not difficult, not expensive, and not even required, although it does increase the energy output. You can leave a solar cell in the shade, on the desk in your office, and it'll still produce output. Outdoors, facing generally towards the sun at some semi-reasonable angle, they'll do fine. You need more of them to get the same output as optimally positioned cells, that's all.

Re:Retrofitting (2)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 2 years ago | (#42383393)

sunray panels use micro inverters and simply plug into one of your sockets.

They don't make financial sense right now ($1300 after the tariffs came in. $1000 with $300 rebate previously).

My one panel appears to lower my electricity costs by about $2.50. The "kilawatt meter" is showing production of about 1 kilowatt per per month. Basically 68 watts 9am to noon. 140 watts noon to 4pm. And 68 watts 4pm to 6pm (8pm in the summer). The curve is a little smoother than that- but not much.

If the panels were $350, they would be a no brainer- buy 10 of them, basically erase your electrical bill during daylight hours. Get a 10 year payoff.

The panels are heavy tho and this technology would help.

For now tho- power savings items (like LED bulbs) have payoffs in under a year. So they are a better option.

1400 watts... not gonna cut it (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#42383999)

If the panels were $350, they would be a no brainer- buy 10 of them, basically erase your electrical bill during daylight hours. Get a 10 year payoff.

uh.... no.

10 of those panels would, according to your numbers, produce 1400 watts during peak time at your location. Disregarding conversion efficiency, non-peak time, and outright darkness, the assumption that the average household uses 1400 watts... that's just not in line with reality. 1400 watts is living like a bloody caveman. My home entertainment system can pull more than that. So does my refrigerator. So does my computer (admittedly, it's a heck of a machine.) So does my fishtank. So does the vacuum cleaner. So does electric heat, if you use it (remember, some areas are *cold*.) So does the stove. So does the air conditioning. Other things are close, just by themselves: Toasters, microwaves, total lighting loads, furnace fan, water heaters, some power tools. Seriously, 1400 watts isn't a reasonable number for a modern household.

Most US households have a 10 kw service, and it's not at all uncommon for that service to see loads over 5 kw at various times of day. Green appliances can help, but unless you want to outright start going backwards by just tossing out some pretty common amenities, they won't get you to 1400 watts.

Reduce the rates? Sure. Erase the bill? No.

Re:1400 watts... not gonna cut it (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about a year ago | (#42394569)

But not continuously during daylight hours (unless you are in arizona).

Surge load vs average load.

Re:1400 watts... not gonna cut it (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about a year ago | (#42395293)

Your numbers sounded high so I looked at my last few electrical bills...
My last three electric bills averaged about 525kwh.

One panel is producing about 30kwh per month. So 10 panels would be 300kwh .. that's over half of my 525kwh bills. This case is true for 8 months a year.

Going back to the summer-- I peaked 1122kwh. This is in texas where I the ac runs from june to september. For the other three summer months I was just above 1000 kwh.

Doing a little counting on my fingers and tows, I have about 600 extra kwh to distribute over the summer. That's about half for three months and about 40% for the peak month.

Perhaps you are thinking of grid independent- in which case I completely agree with you. You need a huge system, and/or batteries to run that way.

But for a grid tied system- you simply lower your bill to zero for long periods of time during the day when you are not simultaneously doing all of the above. In many states, your meter runs backwards.

My computer and TV both draw about 120 watts. The houselights about 35 watts. The fridge, ac, etc are all temporary loads that run 25% of the time at best. Tho my roomba is basically covered. My heating and cooking is gas.

Re:Retrofitting (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42383813)

You only need all that stuff for a large system. For the smaller scale stuff you would use these for you can just have an off-the-shelf sealed inverter and plug it into a standard domestic socket. You won't get the feed-in tariff but it will reduce your bills.

History (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381141)

Looks like someone in Standford University will suffer the same fate than Rudolf Diesel.

Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will soon (4, Insightful)

tekrat (242117) | about 2 years ago | (#42381161)

"Dah, Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will soon be here"

Bugs: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you'd been sayin' dat all trew da' pitchure... Well, WHERE IS HE?"

This is how I feel about Solar Cells. EVERY DAMN WEEK, another "breakthrough" that will make then cheap, ubiquitous, flexible, transparent, more efficient, etc. etc.

Yet, when I go shopping for a solar panel, all I get is the same old crap, and it's still crazy expensive.

All I ever hear is that they are coming to market "soon". And that was already 5 years ago. Frankly, next week I wouldn't be surprised if we heard about solar panels with 100% efficiency and only cost 10 cents. But you'd never be able to actually BUY them in your lifetime.

How's that ultracapacitor technology going for you? Or the Batteries that run on air?

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#42381227)

Ultracaps have their niches. I recall that China has one public vehicle project powered entirely by ultracaps - it can drive for a whole twenty miles on a single charge. As the vehicle is a bus, that works out very well: It just charges up from a pantograph at every bus-stop. I've also seen them used in bicycle safety lights and regenerative breaking in electric cars. They don't pack anything like the energy density of a battery, but they are just far more reliable and long-lasting. Unlike batteries, ultracaps don't care how you store them and they don't lose capacity with age.

Re:Don't you worry... (2)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | about 2 years ago | (#42381231)

PV Prices [scientificamerican.com] (note log scale)

Outdated prices (3, Informative)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#42383707)

Those are very outdated prices

http://www.dmsolar.com/solar-module-1141.html

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (4, Informative)

plover (150551) | about 2 years ago | (#42381321)

The prices of solar cells have been dropping rapidly over the last few years. I think the "green" movement is finally driving up demand to the point where they're becoming commodity items instead of specialty items. They're now available in prices under a dollar per watt [wholesalesolar.com] , which is about 4 times cheaper than they were just three years ago (the last time I was looking at a rooftop array.) That means today you can buy 400 square feet of solar panels for $5,220, capable of producing a peak power output of 5,500 watts. Not that you'll get that much power with every minute of sunshine, but it could keep a large set of batteries charged.

Of course there's extra money involved - the panels won't mount themselves on your roof, and you'll have to buy an inverter and wire it into your house. Batteries are surprisingly optional, by the way - unless you want to run off the grid, consider selling the electricity back to the electric company instead of storing it yourself. When the smart grid arrives it could make money, as the peak power prices generally coincide with the brightest and hottest days of the year.

I'm not sure how cheap you're expecting them to be get, but they're available today, and a lot cheaper than they were even just a few years ago. The only thing stopping you from buying them is inertia (and the money, of course).

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381833)

Chinese market dumping helps too.

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381663)

I seriously doubt you've gone shopping form solar panels if you think they're crazy expensive. They've dropped 80% in price in the last 5 years. They're so cheap that in may of areas of the company they beat grid power even if you finance them.

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (1)

pla (258480) | about 2 years ago | (#42382517)

Yet, when I go shopping for a solar panel, all I get is the same old crap, and it's still crazy expensive.

If you can do the installation yourself, you can get panels for under $2 a watt [amazon.com] now. That gives you a payback period, even in the Northern US, of a mere two to three years.

Yes, if you want to go totally off-grid, you need some way to store the power, which gets into the mess of batteries and charge controllers and inverters. But... Just don't do that! You can go with a grid-tie setup, where you just need the panels and the inverter; you can get small-scale plug-and-play inverters (1KW) for around $350, or a whole-house scale 10KW units for $1300.

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#42383743)

There are a number of places that sell solar panels for half that price.

Get in line ... (1)

danwiz (538108) | about 2 years ago | (#42382865)

It's right after my flying car becomes available.

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#42383721)

I can find solar panels at $0.82 a watt, and sometimes lower. Is that what you mean by "crazy expensive"?

Re:Don't you worry, never fear, robin hood will so (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42383853)

A solar system will pay for itself in about five years now, including installation. After that it is pure profit. I'm not sure what you were expecting, but that isn't what I'd call "crazy expensive".

Look at it another way: how much do you spend on a car and does it start paying you to drive it after five years?

Enough already (1, Troll)

grumling (94709) | about 2 years ago | (#42381189)

All you guys who are sitting in university labs, toiling away at yet another flexible, printable, super-cheap solar panel technology need to get out and actually bring something to market. I don't care who you work with (keep in mind British Petroleum is one of the largest producers of solar panels), how it's done, in fact none of the details impress me at this point. Just get something out the frickin' door! I'll celebrate when I can buy a roll of your solar panel material at the Home Depot (or at sparkfun.com) and spend the weekend screwing it to the side of my house. Until then, you don't have anything interesting. I've been hearing about these things for the last 20 years and we're still using expensive and fragile monocrystalline panels.

Oh, and you guys in the tech media: Stop promoting science experiments as the next big breakthrough. It's getting old. If they have something truly revolutionary it's news. Otherwise you're just wasting electricity.

Re:Enough already (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 2 years ago | (#42381221)

Scientists generally don't bring things to market, engineers do. Or rather, engineers who have been allowed to do so by those who control the purse strings.

Re:Enough already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42385099)

Or the ones that hold the keys to the patent offices and tax anything that might disrupt the current business model.

Re:Enough already (1)

cheaphomemadeacid (881971) | about 2 years ago | (#42381535)

why on earth would you visit slashdot with that sentiment? Do you like annoying yourself?

On the beach (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381199)

Now I can get a suntan and defibrillate myself at the same time!

Trippy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381243)

They look like little tabs of acid.

Honest, officer, those are just for recharging my cellphone.

Self-adhesive solar panels have long existed (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#42381251)

The technology for peel-and-stick solar panels for homes has long existed, but the company which developed them is now bankrupt [wikipedia.org] .

I am, nonetheless, highly interested or even excited about this development, which should really give a much-needed boost to the proliferation of long-flying drones in the hands of hobbyists. Batteries are expensive and heavy.

Re:Self-adhesive solar panels have long existed (1)

Spamalope (91802) | about 2 years ago | (#42381951)

>

I am, nonetheless, highly interested or even excited about this development, which should really give a much-needed boost to the proliferation of long-flying drones in the hands of hobbyists. Batteries are expensive and heavy.

Lipo batteries are energy dense and very light for the power they store. These couldn't come close even with the entire wing covered.

OTOH, If these could be deposited on a film that -is- the upper wing surface so they are light, they could provide power for a glider like model plane that's mostly soaring.

Re:Self-adhesive solar panels have long existed (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 2 years ago | (#42384035)

These couldn't come close even with the entire wing covered.

They probably don't need to. A LiPo battery (or any other kind) has to store energy to operate the system for the entire flight. A solar cell array only has to provide just a bit more than enough to keep it operating for an instant. Throw a small untracap in there and you'd have something. There are lots of high-tech ways to lighten a small scale flyer. And there is always the gasbag "cheat" if you'll go for flying only on low-wind days.

Re:Self-adhesive solar panels have long existed (3, Informative)

Nf1nk (443791) | about 2 years ago | (#42383467)

Uni-Solar made some seriously crappy cells. If the plastic membrane on those cells got a scratch (and they scratched pretty easy) the cell would bloom into a rust ball that produced no power. Also the mounting adhesive could not handle multiple heating and cooling cycles without coming apart. The warranty department also had no idea how to fix the problems.

Why would anybody use these solar cells? (1)

mykepredko (40154) | about 2 years ago | (#42381281)

I was going to ask if anybody has any addititional information, but you can go through the press release [nature.com] .

The two big things that jump out at me are:
1. The quoted efficiency (7.5%) seems to be quite low - aren't other more traditional cells at 20% or more? I don't see any indication that these cells cost half or less than traditional solar cells which would make up for the efficiency losses.
2. There doesn't see to be any method of passing current from cells that are butted up or overlapping each other which means that there must be wires running to each cell. This would mean that the process of putting on different surfaces is not as simple as implied in the article summaries.

Anybody who can explain more about the application of these cells?

myke

Re:Why would anybody use these solar cells? (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about 2 years ago | (#42381449)

Thin Film roll-to-roll producible type cells are in that range, in fact 6% is more common, so these seem to be a pretty decent grade of cell actually. In any case, yeah, they're obviously not going to be ganged together or used to power anything large. Still, if you're hauling 40lbs of batteries around in bum fuck nowhere Afghanistan I think you'll be real glad to stick a few of these to your gear and shed 10 lbs.

Re:Why would anybody use these solar cells? (3, Informative)

Glock27 (446276) | about 2 years ago | (#42382033)

1. The quoted efficiency (7.5%) seems to be quite low - aren't other more traditional cells at 20% or more? I don't see any indication that these cells cost half or less than traditional solar cells which would make up for the efficiency losses.

These obviously don't use much material, and the stated materials are silicon and nickel which are both very abundant. As long as the thin film cell material is also silicon, these should be very cheap to manufacture especially in quantity. These might be a great solution for the ever-elusive "solar roof tile". Even assuming no improvement in efficiency, a 75' by 25' roof installation could generate ~50 KWh of electricity per day under average conditions. That could help quite a bit with the electric bill, especially for AC during summer in hot climates.

2. There doesn't see to be any method of passing current from cells that are butted up or overlapping each other which means that there must be wires running to each cell. This would mean that the process of putting on different surfaces is not as simple as implied in the article summaries.

For the solar roof tile application, the conductors would be built into the tiles. Wires are not exactly a show-stopper in terms of technology. ;-)

Additional details (4, Informative)

rainwalker (174354) | about 2 years ago | (#42381367)

As the linked article isn't fully detailed, you might want to read the actual paper [nature.com] (seems to be free access). Among other things, they note that these photocell stickers retain their original 7.5% efficiency, which although not incredibly high, is still pretty decent, given how cheap this will likely be. It should be great for costs to have the actual wafer be reusable.

How about snowboards? (2)

SYSS Mouse (694626) | about 2 years ago | (#42381929)

Electrifying Solar Powered Snowboard: Every Third Thursday from Signal Snowboard
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUhWJzfUZQA [youtube.com]

Re:How about snowboards? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382013)

Please kill yourself.

Cost of Solar Installation (1)

inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) | about 2 years ago | (#42382229)

Last I checked, solar panels were pretty affordable, but installation was a substantial part of the cost of a useful setup. While making cheaper cells is good, I think making more effecient cells (less area required, thus lower installation cost) could be even better. That, and cheaper storage.

The good news is that all these are being done, and the cost of a working installation with battery storage is now low enough that if I had a house, I would get a solar installation. Unfortunately, I can't afford a house.

Your'e missing the point! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42385463)

The point here is that these are flexible and 40 cents per watt. They can be bonded into shingles. No need for panels. Right now, the cost of installation is a major part of a solar system. A shingle roof needs to be replaced every 20 years or so. If you're re-roofing, using these shingles drops the incremental cost of installation to near zero--you need shingles anyway. That drives down total system cost by a big factor.

Tacky (1)

dohzer (867770) | about 2 years ago | (#42385665)

If there's anything I want to do in a half-arsed manner, it's harness electricity.

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