Implementing solar energy in one’s daily life involves a huge effort and a heavily loaded bank account – so most people think. But times have changed and fact is that you see more and more roofs covered in solar panels and self-charging electronic devices these days. Solar panels have become cheaper, easier to handle and technology is constantly improving. Yet, solar power has still not become the norm. The possibility of printing solar cells of the size of an A3 sheet of paper may finally take solar power to the masses and make renewable energy hopefully soon our number one source.
Researchers at Australia’s Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC), a collaboration of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners, started out printing photovoltaic cells the size of a mere fingernail. Led by Dr. Scott Watkins, the researchers continued experimenting with the AUD$200,000 solar printer and in just three years they managed to enlarge the solar cells to a width of 10cm and now 30 cm. To print these sheets of solar cells the researchers use photovoltaic ink that is printed on a given medium with a technique similar to printing an image onto a t-shirt. Per minute the printer can roll out 10 meters of solar cells, which means that there is one cell printed every two seconds. Per cubic meter the cells can provide us with 10 to 50 watts of power and the researchers believe that they can eventually achieve a price of $1 per watt.
The uses for an A3 sized solar cell are sheer endless. The researchers imagine it to be useful for advertising signage, powering lights or to embed them into notebook cases for extra power when your charger is not around. You could also laminate the windows of skyscrapers with solar cells, turning these buildings into huge power generators. The solar cells could also be embedded into roofs, offering a pleasant addition or alternative to existing solar panels. What is most important about the solar cell sheets though: they are accessible. Finally, the business with solar energy can become much more approachable and more people can truly go green.