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New Solar Panel Technology Gaining Momentum

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the turn-toward-the-light dept.

181

jessiej writes, "Even though copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), a newer type of solar panel, is less efficient than its silicon counterpart, millions are being invested in manufacturing. From the article: 'CIGS panels use far less raw material than silicon solar panels and the factories themselves cost less to build,' $25 million compared to $230 million in one example. These types of panels could even be made into a t-shirt logo."

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I can see it now (5, Funny)

also-rr (980579) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630912)

A debian logo on your shirt powering a small bewulf cluster of wearable computers computing Pi to many, many decimal places. What a talking point! How will the girls resist!

Re:I can see it now (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16630954)

They won't need to resist, they would be busy with solar powered toys of their own...

Re:I can see it now (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631726)

Until they put them where the sun doesn't shine....

Re:I can see it now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16634388)

that means they'd have to play with those toys out in the sunshine, where everyone can watch. BRING IT ON!

Re:I can see it now (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631036)

And the women who wear it?

"Nice... um... solar panels.."

Re:I can see it now (0)

aplusjimages (939458) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631110)

I thought the parent was referring to solar powered vibrators. Am I wrong?

How will they resist? (3, Funny)

gringer (252588) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631750)

By using a resistor, of course.

Re:How will they resist? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631888)

Ohm my God, you went there.

Re:I can see it now (2, Funny)

Simplulo (250142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631832)

more easily than men resist women's old-fashioned silicon-based enhancements.

Re:I can see it now (2, Funny)

Herger (48454) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632556)

It's a great idea, until the girls start throwing themselves at you, blocking the panels and crashing your cluster. New tech is so fraught with peril!

Silicon shortage? (2, Insightful)

in2mind (988476) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630960)

FTA,
Shortages of silicon have crimped sales in the solar industry.

I thought silicon was abundant ..

Re:Silicon shortage? (4, Informative)

Zarniwoop_Editor (791568) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630972)

It is. Unfortunatly, to build solar cells you need crystalline silicon. These crystals have to be carefully grown and are quite expensive to produce.

There is more info at ... http://www.howstuffworks.com/solar-cell.htm [howstuffworks.com]

What about amorphous silicon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631278)

I thought that was going to take the world by storm for precisely the reasons you give.

Re:Silicon shortage? (2, Interesting)

hankwang (413283) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630982)

I thought silicon was abundant ..

I suppose it is the production capacity of the 99.99999% purity grade silicon they're talking about.

Re:Silicon shortage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631184)

I thought silicon was abundant

Silicon only makes up 25% of the mass of the Earth's crust. It is not like you can go down to the beach and find some. Or grab a rock with quartz in it (like granites, sandstones, basalts, etc.). Or dig up any piece of dirt anywhere on the planet. You have to search carefully or it will run away and hide from you.

Btw, you are looking directly at some SiO2 right now.

Cheers

Re:Silicon shortage? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631534)

Yes. Si is the second most abundant element on the surface of the Earth, next to oxygen.

And that's the crux of the problem too. Silica (SiO2) is abundant (quartz sand), but SiO2 is a BITCH to break apart (the usual reaction is with carbon in an almost 2000 deg C arc furnace), you have to partially melt it or transform it into gaseous silanes (e.g., HSiCl3) to remove impurities, and then you have to grow the Si crystals in high temperature furnaces in very clean conditions. Some of the impurities have to be reduced to the parts per billion range for some applications. It is an energy-intensive and expensive process, and the demand for Si for computer chips cuts into supply for solar cells.

Here's some info on making polycrystalline silicon [sumitomo-ti.co.jp] , and wafer production, including crystal growth [tocera.co.jp] . All of that happens before the solar cells or chips get made.

If we lived on a planet without any oxygen, maybe it would be easier :-)

Re:Silicon shortage? (4, Informative)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633716)

but SiO2 is a BITCH to break apart (the usual reaction is with carbon in an almost 2000 deg C arc furnace)

You are partially right... I worked on a project where we were testing a new arc furnace design for smelting silicon (it was a DC furnace as opposed to AC). Wearing one of my hats on that project I wrote a computer model program of the mass and energy balances that took place in the furnace.

My application of the physical chemistry and calculus have passed the haven't used it/lost it point, but if I remember some of the basic things correctly... basically yes it is a real bitch to actually split the silicon (Si) from the oxygen (however, silanes are not involved). It takes a tremendous amount of energy to do so. One of the reasons silica (SiO2) is so abundant is that it is so stable. Being so stable means that it is hard, thermodynamically and every other way, to break it apart. So while Silicon (Si) in the form of Crystaline Silica (SiO2, e.g. quartz, silica sand) is VERY abundant, Si on its own is VERY VERY rare. SiO2 is so much more stable than Si.

  • Typically the furnace at its hottest point will be around 5000 degrees C (a carbon monoxide plasma forms there).
  • The silicon metal at the furnace spout where it is tapped/poured from, is typically around 1400 - 1500 degrees C
  • The reaction is SiO2 + 2C -> Si + 2CO
  • The intermediate product includes SiO (silicon monoxide which only exists in gas phase at greater than 1400 degrees C) and SiC (silicon carbide).
  • Most of the actual reaction steps forming the silicon (from silica) happen in gas phase at obviously very high temperature.
  • The actual smelting process (chemically) is similar to smelting iron: reducing the base metal (removing the oxygen) using carbon as the reducing agent at very high temperatures. (Silicon higher than for iron.)
  • There are no silanes involved as you describe in the initial smelting process from SiO2 to Si.
  • With respect to the parent post about silanes: they are possibly created/used later if the silicon needs to be refined to semi conductor grade, but I don't know. I was not involved in this aspect of silicon refining, which is highly proprietary, and which I believe is (or was) protected by laws relating to national security).
  • The greatest use of silicon is not in electronics. It is in the making of synthetic rubber. e.g. silicone
  • Technically silicon is a metalloid... at room temp: non-conductive, 1200 - 1400 C, conductive, for example.
  • When it cools, it forms a metallic silvery solid that is very brittle, similar to bituminous or anthracite (hard) coal... which makes sense as it is in the same family as carbon. If you hit it with a hammer it breaks or shatters.
  • The main raw materials in smelting silicon are typically quartz, coal, and charcoal (and sometimes other more porous carbonaceous materials to improve gas permeability in the reaction bed. The coal and charcoal is for carbon content, not heat. The quartz needs to be quite pure... e.g. no or very very little iron etc in it (brown stains on quartz are typically from iron... not from wayward hikers.
  • In most silicon furnaces the top of the furnace mix is exposed to atmosphere, and is so hot the carbon monoxide (CO) off gas burns to CO2, which is inert/non poisonous (CO is as flammable as methane, but it is so poisonous that it is not practically safe to do so). Granted the large volumes of inert CO2 created is bad, but better than highly poisonous CO.
  • An interesting point is if you spill enough molten silicon onto a piece of iron/steel so that the iron starts to melt, the resulting reaction forming Ferro Silicon is so hot that it keeps reacting until one of the reactants is used up (e.g. until no more silicon or iron), or it hits enough of a heat sink to cool to solidification. We had a spill once that took out about 10 yards of the rail tracks some of our equipment rolled on, as well as some other pieces of steel equipment. All of which we needed to re-install or re-build in a couple of hours. Quite exciting, and a huge pain in the ass.

Re:Silicon shortage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631632)

Whats happening is shortages of silicon in the US. As is starting to happen with most large scale production, the cost of US labor is too high. US factories have less and less money to spend on raw materials because the cost of labor is going up.

My father in law used to work for a solar panel manufacturer and had to find another job because the plant was on the verge of shutting down. Their German silicon provider cut their supply to the US to provide it to either Japan or China who was offering over 4 times the amount of money for the same amount resources.

It all boils down to how much the US is able to pay for raw materials and keep their employees living the American lifestyle.

Re:Silicon shortage? (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633850)

It also has to do with environmental issues (the labour issue is very true as well). Smelting silicon is fairly dirty, releasing large volumes of CO2, carbon volatiles from the coal and charcoal, and often dusts (which they try to capture...). Other countries have cheaper labour, lower labour standards, and lower environmental standards. Yep... it's a level playing field. ;-) We just need to lower our standards and we can compete.

Re:Silicon shortage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16634034)

Well it is like this the Computer industry gets priority for silicon since it is widely used in smallish quantity, The Solar power industry needs large quantities to make their big solar panels On average I would bet the amount of pure silicon used to make one computer is .01 percent that is needed to make a single solar cell.

It seems to me that Oil companies would go out of their way to prevent solar power from gaining any advantage over coal, gas, and oil. The computer industry has the most inefficient designs that use mechanical storage devices when digital devices are powerful enough to do the job that use less power. CD's DVD's can be replaced now with digital media. The power supplies that can go to 500 watts of power, poor designed motherboards, and CPU's suck the power bills as well and contribute to global warming.
There are so many issues that contribute to the so called Silicon shortage not one person will be able to cover it all.

What is needed is an Apollo style program for power generation.
We must seek out new ways to generate power that do not damage the environment, Solar currently is the leader of the pack for green energy after it is produced.
www.apolloalliance.org

How long to repay their energy debt (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16630964)

If manufacturing of these panels also costs less energy to produce the panels then this is undoubtedly a better option. Currently, I believe a typical setup takes around 2 years best case to start producing power rather than just paying back what it cost to make.

Re:How long to repay their energy debt (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631354)

No, it starts producing power immediately. What you meant is it doesn't show any ROI for 2 years. Big difference.

Re:How long to repay their energy debt (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632400)

I thought the comment was about how long it takes for the solar panel to generate the amount of energy which equals the total energy required for the manufacturing of that panel. This point is when the device starts actually being environmentally 'friendly'.

LoB

Re:How long to repay their energy debt (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632444)

Eh, semantics. It's not producing any emissions so it's environmentally friendly from day one in my opinion. Anyways, we're just quibbling over split hairs here :)

Re:How long to repay their energy debt (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16633788)

No, producing solar cells requires a huge amount of raw materials, chemicals, and energy- which in the US, likely means it will come from coal and the release of a large amount of emissions.

The solar panel needs to run around 5 years to produce enough elecitity to make up for the electricty used to make it, and several more years to make up for the emissions produced in transporting, installing, mantaining, and disposing of the device.

The total emissions released in the entire lifecycle of an energy source, divided by the energy produced, is what you have to look at when comparing the environmental impact energy sources. And in those meaures, current solar and wind technology is not particularly attractive, especially in comparison with hydroelectricity or nuclear. Significant breakthroughs are needed before solar energy can be a viable energy source, and as the original poster said, this technology looks like it will significantly reduce the energy requirements to produce solar cells, and thus reduce its enivronmental impact.

So in fact... (1)

Channard (693317) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630968)

.. you could have 'Solar Panel for a sex machine' on your T-Shirt and not be lying.

Re:So in fact... (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631170)

Apart for all the sex-toy jokes, that would be cool if I could plug my cell phone to this.

And no, I am not thinking about the vibrator mode....

Re:So in fact... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631722)

I think that, by wearing that t-shirt, you are lying.

Indium shortage? (3, Informative)

in2mind (988476) | more than 7 years ago | (#16630992)

FTA
Shortages of silicon have crimped sales in the solar industry. Although some analysts have said indium--the "I" in CIGS and a material used in LCD TVs--could be in short supply at some point, executives in the CIGS business have downplayed these concerns. Indium is actually fairly common in the earth, according to Schuyler.


From Wikipedia: [wikipedia.org]

The use of indium increases the bandgap of the CIGS layer, gallium is added to replace as much indium as possible due to gallium's relative availability to indium. Approximately 70% of Indium currently produced is used by the flat-screen monitor industry. Some investors in solar technology worry that production of CIGS cells will be limited by the availability of indium.

Iam not sure about where Wiki got the figure from though.

Re:Indium shortage? (3, Funny)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631144)

I am not sure about where Wiki got the figure from though.

Me either, but the truthiness of it is undeniable!

Re:Indium shortage? (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631578)

Given current raw material supply lines, I believe there might indeed be some limitations on raw materials. However, what I'm not sure of (and the really important question) is whether raw materials supplies could scale to meet the demand while remaining cost effective.

Most materials involved with production of computers have had their refinement processes perfected over a long period of time. Indium, at least in the quantities needed for large scale solar panel construction, may still be an open question. How much is there on the Earth? Of that, how much is usable/obtainable economically? Once the first generation of panels is done, can they be recycled effectively?

It is a concern, but I would like to see real hard core studies done of available raw materials availability and extraction costs before I conclude Indium is or is not viable in the long run.

Re:Indium shortage? (1)

Truekaiser (724672) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633940)

not to mention gallium is mainly a by-product of aluminum production.
aluminum is very energy intensive to produce, so much so that plants have to put next to hydro-plants or other power plants to get enough power.

Are they messing with units again? (2, Funny)

jamesh (87723) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631024)

First they measure the factory's output in megawatts per year, presumably because a 1m^2 CIGS panel is not the same as 1m^2 Silicon panel (reminds me of a time when it started dawning on CPU marketers that Mhz wasn't a good selling point when your CPU could crunch more numbers at a lower speed than your competitors).

Then they use megawatts as a measure of how much power a large coal plant could produce in a year.

Why can't they just stick to libraries of congress? Eg the unit of measure would be that released by burnt all of the books (and furniture) in a library of congress.

Re:Are they messing with units again? (1)

GotenXiao (863190) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631068)

Wow, you guys have a library now? So how come the average American is still so uneducated? :P

Re:Are they messing with units again? (0, Offtopic)

deficite (977718) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631612)

The library of congress was built in another day and time. Back when knowledge was a Good Thing (TM). Nowadays in the US, we have people in office who disregard education altogether and will show up to read books to elementary students (possibly because A. That's the reading level of many of our politicians these days, B. No chance of a 1st grader criticizing the way congress has become a marketplace for selling laws). It's really dumb, but effective (since most parents are even more dumb). "Oh, he read books to little Tommy! Who cares about the fact that this guy completely devastated a town as mayor and now wants to run for mayor!"

Look at the way the government gives the shaft to the public education system. My school doesn't even have enough money to buy the basic necessities for our teachers. The teachers have to dig in their own wallets (which aren't very thick, considering teachers are for some reason not valued in this country. I think teachers should be some of the highest paid workers) to buy basic classroom supplies. On top of that, we have the stupid stupid Every Child Left Behind BS that really screws over the few good teachers we have left, because now they are forced to teach by government mandated curricula. I remember my biology teacher venting to us about how she was require to teach more about plants than humans. She felt that a portion of the class should deal with a certain mammal called Homo Sapiens and the gov said "No!"

All I know, is my child (if an unfortunate being has to endure me) is going to private school, tutoring, or plain home schooling. If he/she wants to go to public school, I'll let him/her. Otherwise, I'm willing to dish out the dough to keep them out of the government prisons for youth. Our schools are prison institutions and patriot academies for the youth. Because we are just SO scary that the old folks don't want us doing something more productive. 12 years just to graduate? BS! I could obtain the same amount of knowledge in 8, maybe even less than that.

Re:Are they messing with units again? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631628)

Read the post you replied to again: They use the library to get energy from burning books.

Re:Are they messing with units again? (1, Troll)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631076)

Can we include just "congress" in your pyre as well?


Oh hi friendly federal agent, of course I would love a cuban vacation let me just pa.............

Remember kids, congress is better than you! Do everything they say without question.

Re:Are they messing with units again? (1)

xehonk (930376) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631308)

They are actually measuring the output in solar panels not in MW. They can produce enough solar panels in one year, to get a power of 100MW from them. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Re:Are they messing with units again? (2, Insightful)

fizzup (788545) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631502)

This has got to be the first reasonable usage of the unit megawatts per year. TFA says that they can build a factory to produce "100 megawatts of solar panels a year".

The astute among us at slashdot always say, "Megawatts per year, eh? Does that mean they increase electric power production by 100 megawatts every year? Duh."

Well, in this case, yes. Yes it does.

Volkswagens are much more appropriate (2, Funny)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631654)

The unit of weight of the media, the Volkswagen, is much more appropriate

tshirts powering iPods (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631074)

There you go. Just stay out in the sun.

bad units (1)

marvinglenn (195135) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631080)

As an EE, when TFA uses phrases like "[...] 500 megawatts a year.", it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling that the writer really knows science and engineering. (Sarcasm intended) It makes me wonder how good the rest of the information in the article is.

For those who are honorably ignorant of what I'm splitting hairs on (honorably in that you're not trying to write about something you don't know about): A 'watt' is already a rate of something per unit time. If the energy produced was to be quantified in units per year, it should be joules per year.

Re:bad units (1)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631150)

Able to output panels with total capacity of 500 megawatts every year? That would work.

Re:bad units (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631160)

I imagine he is using the term as in "mega-watt-years-" just like "kilo-watt-hours".

Re:bad units (3, Informative)

andykuan (522434) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631214)

I think they intended those measurements to mean they are capable of manufacturing an aggregate number of solar panels capable of generating X megawatts in total annually. In other words, they're stating the total amount of power output they can output in a year. The confusion arises when the writer attempts to equate the annual output by a CIGS factory (measured in megawatts of power) with the annual output of a coal power plant (measured in megawatt-hours of work). My guess is that they are really stating that a coal power plant can produce 500 MW of power. Of course this indicates a deeper flaw in the discussion in that a coal power plant can continuously produce 500MW of power (presuming a constant supply of coal). Whereas a solar plant can only produce 500MW of power for half the day.

Re:bad units (1)

xs650 (741277) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631838)

The problem is that they aren't clear what they mean. I interpret it to mean that they can produce enough photocells in a year to produce X megawatts peak power.

I submit that it the more likely meaning because it would be a bigger number and make them look better, while still being a legitimate measure.

A more meaningful number would be $/peak kW of raw DC output for a ready to use array.

Re:bad units (1)

jcaplan (56979) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631908)

Yes, the solar panels produced the first year would have a maximum output of 430 MW on a sunny day, but remember that this plant is producing solar cells with a fairly long life. The combined peak power would increase by 430 MW every year. The coal plant comparison given is useful for a sense of scale. Run this solar cell factory for 20 years and you have substantially reduced need for other sources of power.

Having power available when demand is highest is very useful. Solar panels do this nicely. Peak load is on hot summer days, days when the sun is out and people are running their AC at full tilt. Although it would be nice to think that this solar would directly replace coal burned, it might tend to replace fossil fuel plants that can be "turned on" and "turned off" more quickly, such as natural gas turbines or, to a lesser extent, oil-fired plants. (Hydropower is also good for managing peak load.) Coal plants tend to be used for "base load."

Unfortunately coal is our dirtiest source of fossil fuel energy for two reasons. First, it has a lot of impurities such as sulfur and heavy metals such as mercury which are released as coal is burned. (Expensive "scrubbers" can help to mitigate these problems and are require on new coal plant. Consequently old plants are kept in service for very long periods of time.) The second problem is carbon dioxide. For a given quantity of energy produced, burning coal will release more CO2 than other fossil fuels, such as natural gas, because

CH4 + 2(O2) -> CO2 + 2(H2O)

natural gas has hydrogen-carbon bonds, and gives water as one of its by-products, compared to coal which, being almost pure carbon, mainly has CO2 as its by-product. CO2 is, of course, one of the primary greenhouse gases, so replacing coal would help reduce global warming.

Re:bad units (1)

TastyCakes (917232) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632596)

That or sequestering CO2 from coal plants.

Re:bad units (1)

Dantu (840928) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632076)

The confusion arises when the writer attempts to equate the annual output by a CIGS factory (measured in megawatts of power) with the annual output of a coal power plant (measured in megawatt-hours of work). My guess is that they are really stating that a coal power plant can produce 500 MW of power. Of course this indicates a deeper flaw in the discussion in that a coal power plant can continuously produce 500MW of power (presuming a constant supply of coal). Whereas a solar plant can only produce 500MW of power for half the day.

There is a bit deeper problem than that. He is comparing how quickly the CIGS factory can produce generating capacity (ie MW of Capacity/year) to how quickly the power plant generates energy (MWH/year or MW). A reasonable comparison would be the CGIS factory against a company that builds coal power plants, or how long it would take the CGIS factory to produce enough pannels to replace 1 coal power plant.

Re:bad units (1)

thisislee (908426) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632474)

The article really doesn't catch the point. Assuming that single plant keeps up production at the same rate, in 20 years there would be 20*430 MW = 8.6 GW of solar cells out there produced by the single factory. Once it's been around for the life of a solar cell, (lifetime)*430, would be the amount of in service solar power from the factory. The coal plant would still be 500 MW.

Re:bad units (1)

WhatDoIKnow (962719) | more than 7 years ago | (#16634236)

The figure I'd like to see is acres/megawatt.

:wq

Yes and no. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631230)

I'm fighting this battle all the time. But in this case it is correct.

Watson Ladd is right. "100 Megawatts per year" means "solar cell capacity corresponding to 100 megawatts leaving factory each year", which makes perfect sense.

For geeks: it is an acceleration, the rate of a rate, like metres per second squared :-)

OTOH you are right too -- TFA busts it with coal plants: "A major, coal-burning power plant can churn out about 500 megawatts a year" is, of course absolutely bogus, since the coal plant produces power and not "devices which produce power".

Grrr.

Re:bad units (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631256)

It's wrong to even make the comparison between the maximum output of a solar cell against the maximum output of a coal plant. 500 MW of solar will not replace 500 MW of coal. Unless of course the 500 MW is mean output, and you have a magical way of storing or transporting electricity without losses.

Re:bad units (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631562)

Of course, in order to compare correctly, you'd also have to account for the energy needed to mine the coal and to transport it to the coal factory. And of course for the energy needed to build/install the solar panel and the coal plant, as well as the energy you need to get rid of both, of course taken over the expected lifetime of the panel/plant.

Re:bad units (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631780)

As an EE, when TFA uses phrases like "[...] 500 megawatts a year.", it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling that the writer really knows science and engineering. (Sarcasm intended)

He does seem to know what he is talking about. Perhaps you should learn to read before you criticise?

Re:bad units (1)

TastyCakes (917232) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632548)

No, the author is making a mistake. Andykuan above explains what it is. A 500MW coal plant produces 500MJ every second. "500MW per year" doesn't make sense.

Re:bad units (1)

ScaredSilly (746387) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633914)

Actually this is the standard measure of factory capacity for the solar industry, and is explained in TFA.

Which logo + no more bribing needed? (2, Insightful)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631088)

Or Universal Studios might go after you! Seriously, this is a wonderful innovation. In the past, making a new roof out of solar cells was so prohibitively expensive that states such as California had to offer homeowners incentives in the form of buy-down rebates, tax breaks, and so on [renewablee...access.com] --basically footing part of the bill just to get them using the technology. With the advent of CIGS, these kinds of environmentally-conscious bribes may not even be necessary. Cheap solar technology will now be far more accessible to people, companies, and governments. That is a Good Thing[tm].

Re:Which logo + no more bribing needed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16633144)

It is in part due to those bribes that the technology has been driven to this point; it created demand, demand created profit, and profit drives investment.

The investment in large scale plants will drive prices down, making the technology not only affordable, but actually price-effective. Unlike those solar panels which were put on the roofs in california even 5 or so years ago.

It sounds like the combined output of all the new plants which are already planned will create about a GW worth of solar panels a year, starting around, oh, call it 2010. While this won't replace baseline power (e.g. those coal plants), it may just prevent a few of them from being built; after all, most power *is* used during the day. What it will do is replace (or prevent from being purchased) a bunch of peaking plants, e.g. natural gas and oil plants. In certain countries (e.g. most of them on the continent of Africa), a large amount of the peaking power is produced by small (kess than 10MW) diesel generators -- solar would be *MUCH* preferred.

But even a GW a year is below our rate of increase in usage, I think. I don't recall the numbers, as it has been a while since I worked in power modeling. Regardless, this is a *wonderful* thing, and it was driven, in part, by governments bribing people to use the technology.

About solar cells and raw materials... (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631120)

You dont actually need that much material for solar cells, if you produce them the right way.
The whole concept of those thin film solar cells is that you can get nearly perfect absorption of the light in less than 5 um thickness. Add a base layer, a tin-oxide contact layer on top, and some surface protection, and its entirely possible to make a cell 0.1 mm thick, only 1/10 of it using potentially rare materials.

But can you make roads with it? (3, Interesting)

gsyswerda (550684) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631200)

What we need is a solar panel technology that we can pave roads with. There would be many advantages:

- The land is already available

- An industry already exists for keeping it cleared

- Roads already extend to most places where people need power

- Electric cars could be charged, and "gas" stations could service them. Same for electric trains.

- Roads would become revenue producing

Re:But can you make roads with it? (1)

niceone (992278) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631242)

Yeah, then all we'd need to develop would be transparent cars.

I'm joking!

Or line the roads with it (1)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631252)

I can tell you're a "big picture" kind of person. But in regards to this technology, I think that the more doable implementation would be to line roads with it--perhaps finally allowing for road markings that light up at night and improve driver safety.

Re:Or line the roads with it (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631290)

I guess a lowly fluorescent marker will also do the job as well.

Re:Or line the roads with it (1)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631416)

I think you're thinking about road signs, whereas I'm talking about a substitute for the paint that is used to line roads and mark lanes. Fluorescent paint is not half as good as active lighting. The paint is subject to the elements and fades over time, becoming less and less safe in the process. Something that is only fluorescent is not as noticeable and safe as something that is both fluorescent and emits its own light.

But now that you mention it, there are many places in the U.S. that don't light their road signs (even the big green ones you see on interstates and beltways) and driving in those places at night is difficult as a result. The fluorescent markers don't do a good job, they just do a job that is commensurate with their cost. This new technology will bring down the cost of better alternatives in whatever field you can imagine. That was the whole point of the article.

Is anyone working on this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631340)

This is such an incredible package of benefits that you'd think people would be actively pursuing it.

In particular, "Roads would become revenue producing" is the bit that ought to be attracting the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

It's a terrific idea, even better than piezo-electric power generation in roads from passing vehicles (most roads are empty most of the time, after all, so piezo would be inefficient).

Re:Is anyone working on this? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631590)

I guess in big towns, the piezo roads would be more efficient than solar roads. First, there's usually a lot of traffic on city roads, which is good for piezo roads, but bad for solar roads (shadows from cars). Moreover, in towns, the roads tend to get lots of shadow from the buildings. That's assuming sufficient efficiency of the respective technology itself, of course.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631380)

Even with the improvements in manufacturing, it's hard to see this being economical, especially counting wear and tear.

However, roads are _black_. In some places you can fry an egg on them at noontime. Why not some kind of heat exchange pump that converts the noontime heat differential into electricity by using the heat differential between the road and some kind of heat reservoir? Then at midnight, when your photovoltaics are useless, you run your heat exchanger in reverse. This might work in places like Arizona, which have a large daytime/nightime temperature differential.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (1)

ShakaZ (1002825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631476)

In fact this method has already been used in energy efficient house projects sponsored by the EU. What amazed me when i read the paper was that that was the measure which had produced the biggest energy output.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (1)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631514)

Unfortunately, I can't find a link to it, but recently I read an article about a new social housing project in Belgium where the houses in that neighbourhood would get their warm water in this way. I don't believe it was used for electricity though.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631688)

I know! What we really oughta do is tie together the heat exxchanger under the road and the line of solar panels along the side with batteries and thermal storage so when it snows, we can pump the stored energy into the road to melt the snow.
Seriously, I've worked on several homes with gas-fired boilers where the biggest load on the boilers was for snow melt of the driveway and sidewalks. Seems to me like an awful waste compared to hiring someone to plow or shovel.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631492)

you dont need panels that you can actually drive over in the normal sense. the panels could be mounted a few centimeters below the surface with some kind of replacebale grid over the top that the car tyres actually travel on.
or you could sue them for the lane diviers in long strips, to minimise the extent to which they are driven over.

im talking nosnense, but I really like your idea. If I was a billionaire, I'd bung you 10 million to develop a prototype.

Unlikely in the short term (2, Informative)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631558)

If you look at road surfaces, you will see that they are "clean" only in the sense of being free of large scale obstacles. Tire marks, dirt, oil, and other random stuff is all over the road surface.

Solar panels need optical transparency in their protective layer. Keeping roads clean enough to provide that level of optical clarity is just not going to be workable, except possible with nanotechnology.

When we get self rebuilding roadbeds then solar roadbeds might be practical, but for now roofs are much more practical as targets - most are slanted, don't have cars running over them, and get rained on periodically to help with self cleaning.

Road signs and such would be easier. (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631924)

In the US try putting panels on the backs of or mounted elsewhere on billboard signs.

Also, the signage on bridges could be used for power generation as well.

The only problem, if the stuff is recyclable someone will steal the materials.

All rest areas should have solar powered facilities, or at least augmented.

I think you are using the right of way that freeways have incorrectly. We could use that same right of way to put panels on poles down the centers of freeways or on the sides. The only issues are causing distraction, but that would amend itself as people would become accustomed to them. The other problem is accidents. Poles tend to do a lot of damage.

Re:But can you make roads with it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16632896)

There is a lot of area on roofs away from the mechanical stress of roads that
it might make more sense to use first. Microgeneration is inefficient in some
ways if not connected via a microgrid too, but does mean a reduction in losses
due to transmission. The issue really becomes the maintenance of many, many
installations and the risk that too high a proportion will be maintained badly
if at all, but then that argues for offices, shopping malls, sports stadiums,
and so on to be the primary focus as there tends to be more focused maintenance.

In sunny places there should be an effort to implement whichever solar
technologies offer a good benefit for any costs.

This having been said energy efficiency is still probably the way to go.
Decent roof insulation reduces losses of heat in winter or unwanted solar
gain in summer, can be made from recycled materials and the pay back period
is typically very short (as short as a year or two).

Dangers of solar power (5, Funny)

edxwelch (600979) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631276)

If you deploy too many solar panels in one place you could use up all the sunlight. This has already happened in nothern Scandinavia and during part of the winter they now are in total darkness.

Re:Dangers of solar power (4, Funny)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631394)

If you deploy too many solar panels in one place you could use up all the sunlight. This has already happened in nothern Scandinavia and during part of the winter they now are in total darkness.

Silly. You're getting free electricity. Just set up a bunch of bright lights to replace the lost sunlight.

Re:Dangers of solar power (4, Funny)

ByteSlicer (735276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631756)

Just set up a bunch of bright lights to replace the lost sunlight.
Yeah. And if you point the lights at the panels, you won't need sunlight anymore!

Re:Dangers of solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16632758)

But as we all know, if you point the electric lights at the panels, part of the energy is lost as heat. To recover that, you need to install a heat engine next to the solar panel. But even the heat engine loses part of the energy as heat. So, you need another heat engine next to the first one. And then a third one and so on. In order not to lose any energy, you need to have people increasing heat engines next to each other all the time, and this is why it's called perpetual motion.

Of course, perpetual motion is impossible because the people who'd have to keep installing heat engines are required by law to have breaks and vacations. That's how the laws of thermodynamics limit energy production. Personally, I think we should have repealed those laws a long time ago.

kdawson is a hippie! (1)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631474)

This solar energy story combined with previous gratuitous use of the "enlightenment" icon all point to one conclusion: Our own kdawson has gone granola! Make love, not wars, man. Peace in the Middle East! :)

Finally, a solar article about something real (3, Interesting)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631530)

I used to know one of the guys who went to work at Miasolé. He was a sharp guy with a lot of experience in CIGS and related materials.

Slashdot has had a habit of posting the "next big solar breakthrough" which, in the fine print, is not so big yet but will be RSN. CuInGaSe2, on the other hand, has a long track record and previous commercial attempts have produced some solar panels with usable efficiencies (not great, but usable).

CIGS has the advantage of being a direct band gap material, but there are some limits to how far you can push it in efficiency as a single layer device that have not been overcome. One serious advantage is that this material has a fairly wide tolerance on relative elemental composition - different ratios of material in the film will still produce a working cell within a fairly wide range. This is important because industrial process control has tolerances, and wider tolerances mean less expensive production. CuInSe2 and related compositions have some rather interesting electrical properties with respect to defect behavior that allow them to work in this fashion. Anyone with a real interest in this should look at some dense but extremely interesting work by Zunger at NREL.

The biggest problem with CIGS as a production material is probably that it can't "piggyback" on the industry built up for the computer industry. I know that sounds strange, since its lack of reliance on that source of material is also its advantage, but tools to work with CIGS have to be developed more or less from scratch. That's expensive, and the reason that these initial investments are important. The process must be bootstrapped.

CIGS of course doesn't address other problems with solar adoption, such as durability over time, public acceptance and investment, etc. But CIGS is a real material with real potential, and not simply IPO vaporware.

Also of longer term interest is the idea of multijunction solar cells, which use different wavelengths of light on each layer and thus can push efficiencies much higher. Unfortunately they are also an EXTREMELY difficult practical challenge for production. However, there is a lot that can still be done. We REALLY need more funding for solar research in this country, and more basic research in general, but that's another post.

Good luck to the Miasolé team!

Re:Finally, a solar article about something real (1)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633182)

And don't overlook the two problems with solar generated electricity over and above deploying the technology -- storage and distribution. It is well and good to generate a gazillion Megawatt hours somewhere between Mojave and Boron California, for maybe an 8 hour production day in July. But some years in December, we are only going to get power for six hours a day and some weeks only three days because it is overcast and drizzling the other four days (yes, some years it drizzles in the Mojave). How do we deal with not having the massive solar plants on line when folks on the East Coast start up the machinery of commerce at 0500 AM PST? There are plenty of possibly feasible storage technologies that could allow us to use excess power today or this week, to generate power tomorrow or next week. but, I believe, there are essentially no meaningful storage facilities currently on line.

There is also the non-trivial problem of getting electricity from where the sun shines a lot to where people need to use it. The US grid is pretty fragile and nowhere near being up to shipping massive amounts of power across the country. During the California power crisis five years ago, they couldn't even get power between the Northern and Southern parts of the state. That problem is probably solvable using existing technology. But it might take a decade or two to solve it. I don't see anyone solving it or any leadership from either political party in the US toward getting it solved.

Re:Finally, a solar article about something real (1)

ScaredSilly (746387) | more than 7 years ago | (#16634142)

The biggest problem with CIGS as a production material is probably that it can't "piggyback" on the industry built up for the computer industry. I know that sounds strange, since its lack of reliance on that source of material is also its advantage, but tools to work with CIGS have to be developed more or less from scratch. That's expensive, and the reason that these initial investments are important. The process must be bootstrapped. I would argue, however, that this is actually partly an advantage. The semiconductor industry is based on batch processes for the most part. That usually means slow. Miasole's factory uses reel-to-reel manufacturing, and will be able to exploit the high volume equipment designed for this type of manufacturing.

Cost vs Efficiency (3, Informative)

sfm (195458) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631872)

It is not the efficiency (W/m^2) that needs to go UP in order to make fixed solar generation facilities common, it is the cost ( $/W) that needs to come DOWN.

I'll argue that for a typical small house (1500 sq-Ft) there is more than enough roof area to generate all the electricity for the house, even with 6-7% efficient solar panels. Unfortunately, buying current solar panels, this much energy would cost you >$35,000 !! (And that doesn't include batteries, tracker, inverter.... etc)

If these guys can make lower efficiency panels that also have lower cost/Watt, it is a winning situation for everyone. Where do I buy their stock ?

Re:Cost vs Efficiency (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16633056)

If the 1500 ft^2 house is two storey then this is about 75m^2 plan area. The roof area, if pitched, will be somewhat more than that, but the angle of
the sun at various points will also affect the energy per square metre. A full analysis would involve latitude, pitch angle, etc., but let's assume
that the roof area and sun angle is such that it is perfect all day. At 6% efficiency it might generate 4kW. This would be enough to run the peak
demand of an air conditioning unit in a house in a warm part of the USA if the house was not well insulated. This is with the entire roof covered in
panels, which would be very expensive. So at 6% efficiency it doesn't look to be a good bet. At 20% efficiency then you'd be generating more like
12kW, which is respectable, except that your roof/weather/orientation/latitude would be such that you would not achieve this over the whole day and
every day.

So the first measures should be effective insulation (walls and ceiling) and energy efficient appliances and systems. The $ return per $ spent
is better.

Having done this it is then worth looking at what residual power needs you have. If you need hot water than you'd be better off with
solar thermal on part of the roof as the efficiency is higher, and a well insulated hot water tank is a very cheap way of storing energy. If you
are almost never in during the day then PV panels might not make sense as they would be generating power when you are elsewhere, unless you either
have a storage mechanism, or you are exporting your power to a grid or microgrid. If you live in a windy area then for windy winter nights then
a roof-mounted wind generator might be appropriate.

On the other hand if you are retired and home most of the day but go to bed early then on top of the solar thermal PV panels might make sense.

It all depends. There's a good case for microgeneration of electricity on offices, malls, etc., that are in use during daylight hours, possibly
more so than solar thermal as you'd never use all that hot water. For a health spa, though, solar thermal to warm that swimming pool would be
ideal.

It's all about appropriate measures, but almost always the first measures need to be energy efficiency - insulate, and reduce power usage in
appliances (e.g. fridges, which are improving dramatically, and LCD TVs which now use about half the power compared to an equivalent screen
size CRT).

Re:Cost vs Efficiency (1)

Perp Atuitie (919967) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633290)

One of the blocks to getting more interest in solar tech is the lack of real comparisons. The article says a plant to produce 1000 megawatts worth of panels a year would cost around $25 million. By comparison, a nuke power plant of the same size costs $3 billion or more. But how long will the panels last compared to the nuke? Is the 1000 megs an average for the US or world climate, or a best-case scenario? And how does the cost of building a panel manufacturing plant relate to the end cost of the panels themselves? And what about related costs -- obvious in the case of nukes, but in the case of panels, stuff like energy storage and conversion, maintenenance and replacement, etc.? I know this is all early days and all, but if they're looking for financing they already have ballpark numbers in answer to questions like these. That they apparently don't make those answers public gives their efforts the smell of hype. I want to believe, but faith-based economics is too much to swallow. Has anybody found some real comparative projections?

Re:Cost vs Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16634314)

Just think about what you're saying. Let's assume you quadruple the efficiency but at the same time the cost double. So yes, it'll cost twice as much to cover your roof. But wait, you've quadrupled your efficiency. This means you only need a quarter of the space and thus it ends up being half the price (not to mention you need less space for the solar panels). Obviously I've made up the numbers on the spot, but I'm just saying that you're argument about cost being more important than efficiency is complete bullcrap.

Not to mention that tech, historically, gets drastically cheaper as time progresses.

Nano Solar (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#16631894)

Of course a company called "Nano Solar" would get funding.

But whats the marginal cost of producing panels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631950)

Right so 25 million dollars gets you 100mw a year. So build 15 billion dollars worth of factories and you get enough panels every year to provide about 10% of the United Kingdoms annual power use. In ten years your entire country is solar powered. Sounds suspiciously cheap. How much does each panel cost to produce? Somehow I suspect a lot.

Why just tell us the factory cost? Without know the production costs its meaningless? Grr irritating.

$1.37 and sub $1 a watt panels (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16631954)

The nanosolar people claim the panels can be done in a web-press like machine. (Web presses, the way all thoes unsolicited catalogs you get are made, so buying in bulk from the Chinese makes it cheap!) They claim a 20+ year lifespan. And they would be WAY cheaper than the Ovonics Uni-Solar products.

The only 'problem' is the back-end electronics are still "expensive" and will remain so, even if panels drop from the present price of $5+ per watt to $1. The panels will just be the cheapest part in such a system. Now, if you were powering, oh say, 48 VDC or 12VDC computers, the interface electronics could be as simple as a diode.

Solar Power is The Future (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632254)

I find it amazing that given the enormous potential of solar power, there is so little money being invested. When it comes to fusion, governments invest billions in international programmes, yet invest virtually nothing for solar research. Why is that? Is it due to lobbying from oil companies?

And Teddy Kennedy won't allow windmills... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16632374)

Do you think a culture where the rich and powerful put an end to wind farms near Martha's Vinyard would allow acres and acres of land to be covered with solar panels?

Although it would probably be worth it to put a few tens of thousands of square miles of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona under solar panels just to see how it would cause the heads of ecofreaks to explode.

Hey, if we could contain those exploding heads we'd be able to get even more energy!

Questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16632316)

1) Can these solar panels be made in quantity effectively and without environmental pollution?

2) Are the materials in these panels toxic, requiring special disposal (like batteries)?

3) Are the materials in these panels toxic, being dangerous to have near the skin or risk leakage?

4) Are they long lasting (how many years of use)?

5) What is their efficiency? How much better are they than traditional panels?

There are other promising techniques. (2, Informative)

jelle (14827) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633096)

There are other promising techniques of harvesting sunlight, to only give a small sample: this one [physorg.com] uses buckyballs and gets 5.2% efficiency, and something sort of similar using pentacene [physorg.com] has similar promises, and this one [physorg.com] uses the all-famous carbon nanotubes to convert it directly into hydrogen (but for now it only works with UV-light)

If this keeps up, we'll probably have a choice from a whole range of efficiencies, and more importand $/watt.

There already are [oksolar.com] companies out there that sell solar shingles. They're not economical yet for most applications, but it's starting to come.

Easier to Manufacture (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633324)

Great, does this mean we can cover the already flat, already ugly roofs of most commercial buildings with them? Can attractive "solar shingles" be made with them? Can them make up for less efficency with wide scale adaptablity/adoptiblity?

Must be asked. (1)

kahrytan (913147) | more than 7 years ago | (#16633576)

But will the t-shirt sized solar panels power a Linux tablet pc?

Re:Must be asked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16634226)

Well sure. Everyone with a Linux tablet pc wears a size XXXL, right?

Miasole (4, Informative)

ScaredSilly (746387) | more than 7 years ago | (#16634054)

I've seen the Miasole production facility and had a chat with the CEO and one of the engineers at the end of the summer. There're a few interesting things that TFA doesn't mention. First, Miasole claims the low $25M price tag for a 200MW factory because they build all of their equipment from scratch. When I was on the floor, they were building a single 25MW line which they turned on for testing last month. That cost them a grand total of $4M (in parts) to build. E.g. they've already done one, so the pricing is reasonably accurate. Subsequent lines will be cheaper. This will give them a huge cost advantage over other similar companies.

Secondly, their production process is cheaper not only because material costs are lower, but also because they use a "reel-to-reel" process in which the semiconductor material is deposited on a sheet of steel which unrolls into the line, and then rolls back up on a reel on the other side. The steel sheets can then be cut and woven into a vinyl enclosure which can be rolled out on your roof like regular roofing shingles. Cool stuff. (They're probably going to attack industrial markets first though...)

Third, the management team comes from the disk drive industry, and built the Seagate facility that is responsible for ~30% of the world's hard drives (could have the percentage slightly wrong, but is in the ballpark). Hard drives use a similar thin film deposition process, and they have built several other manufacturing systems based on thin film processes. This is why the are able to get such a low cost on their equipment: they have the contacts and expertise to build from scratch.

For the record, I have not talked with their competitors, so I don't know the whole story, but Miasole seems very well positioned, and their facility is certainly real.

Indium in FPD (1)

waveman68 (1019934) | more than 7 years ago | (#16634624)

One person commented about Indium in the Flat Panel Display (FPD) industry. It is true that it is used in all LCD displays in Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), a Transparent Conducting Oxide. The industry has been searching for a replacement, since it is expensive and constrained, but has been expensive. My credentials: I worked for a company which made the machines to coat ITO on glass for the LCD manufactures (one of the hardest steps in the process).
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