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New Solar Cells 20 Times Cheaper 516

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the doesn't-work-in-michigan dept.
handy_vandal writes "STMicroelectronics has announced a new generation of photocells made from organic plastics. Over a typical 20-year life span of a solar cell, a single produced watt should cost as little as $0.20, compared with the current $4. See also article @ cnn.com. On a related note, this article @ IEEE discusses new improved LED technology by the same team."
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New Solar Cells 20 Times Cheaper

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  • by Sir Haxalot (693401) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:51PM (#7115416)
    Eetimes.com [eetimes.com].
  • by KDan (90353) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:52PM (#7115425) Homepage
    The mythical solar-powered flashlight becomes achievable!

    Daniel
    • by wankledot (712148) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:56PM (#7115472)
      Laugh it up. [solareagle.com]
      • Much Better (Score:2, Informative)

        by Blikbok (595309)
        The Free Light by Avexa-Swisslight.

        http://www.tadgear.com/x-treme%20gear/flashlight s% 20main/free-light.htm

        Uses a rechargeable coin cell. 8 hours of sunlight = 2 hours of LED light.
      • I love that with the solar power you get 3 hours of light, and with the batteries you get 9 hours of light.

        So a days worth of sunlight is providing you with about one AA battery's power.

        And i thought we were technologically advanced.

        All in the size of a briefcase

  • no wonder (Score:3, Interesting)

    by happyfrogcow (708359) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:53PM (#7115431)
    Consequently, although the "fuel" for a solar-powered generator is free sunlight, the overall cost of solar-generated electricity (amortized over the lifetime of the solar cell, typically 20 years) is around ten times higher than the cost of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.


    No wonder we still don't have widespread solar use. I had no idea it was this much more expensive to "buy" initially.
    • Re:no wonder (Score:3, Insightful)

      by leoxx (992)
      One thing you should also keep in mind is that when they talk about "initial cost", they are in part referring to the amount of energy (and thus pollution) needed to create the solar cells themselves. With current cells, it takes a lot of energy to make them, so although they are pollution free when they run, they caused a lot of pollution when they were made so the net benefit can be limited. As someone who lives in a relatively sunny climate, I can't wait for improvements to the technology so I can get
    • Re:no wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

      by homebrewmike (709361) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:31PM (#7115853)
      The System Admin geeks should understand the following: is Linux really free for use in a production environment?

      Resounding answer: no. There is a cost to do anything in the enterprise. You know, the TCO - total cost of ownership. You need backup media, you need power, you need people to make it run right.

      So, let's talk about Gas. Is it really $1.36 a gallon, as advertised?

      Most folks, again, would answer nope. There are those annoying little hard to calculate costs. For instance - if we weren't dependent on foreign engery - would we need a military the size we do?

      How about the environment? Oil-n-Coal aren't doing it a hell of a lot of good. Doubt me? Move to LA - from what I've heard, it kind of sucks there.

      So, while we in the US pay $1.36, we really are paying more - it's just not reflected at the pump.

      It's only a matter of time before we move to Solar.
  • Sign Me Up! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Gortbusters.org (637314) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:53PM (#7115434) Homepage Journal
    3 laptops and the other essentials (TV, etc) run me a quick $100/month bill in electricity. Must... get... solar..
    • Re:Sign Me Up! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zCyl (14362) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:12PM (#7115642)
      Well, with a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation... If you roughly assume an average of 5 hours of good sunlight per day and roughly assume a house consumes 500KWh per month, then you need 3,333W of generated power (before taking storage into account). In previous price ranges, you're talking $15,000 for that many solar cells (not counting power storage cost or a multiple for storage efficiency). If they can successfully bring solar cells of 20 cents per Watt to market, then you're talking about enough solar cells to cover a house's usage for possibly around $2000.

      Assuming no major error in the calculation, that makes it accessible to anyone who can afford a house. A year's electricity at that rate of consumption would be about $720.

      Hopefully they will succeed in delivering this, and the usage of the words "organic", "nanotechnology", and "renewable energy" are more than just buzzwords in search of funding.
      • Re:Sign Me Up! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:42PM (#7116000) Homepage
        Bah you're thinking wrong....

        generate electricity and run your electricity meter backwards during the day and consume at night.

        Most solar power installations have no battery storage and simply pump electricity back to the grid (you get a special power meter from the power company that will run backwards... or sometimes a second meter to measure backflow)

        what do you achieve? no power bill (net generated is always more than consumed so my credit hit's the cap of 200 dollar credit the power company has.. it get's consumed a bit in the winter (I live in michigan) but my highest electric bill was 2 winter's ago and I had to pay $30.00 for january... I was too lazy to clear snow off the panels.

        the best part is that I force GREEN power down the throats of my neighbors and industry... they have to use my evil solar electricity that I pump back to the grid.

        Now If 100 more people in my area do the same? you get a major drop in the need to generate electricity by the company... expand this to 20% of the residents here? you can forget about having to build a new power plant... the consumer is making your power now...

        keep going and you see that solar power, if mandated in a city CAN make a gigantic difference...
        • by _ph1ux_ (216706) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:13PM (#7116357)
          "...the best part is that I force GREEN power down ..."

          Well technically Solar Power would be White Power, in that sunlight is white light... But that just sounds bad.
        • Re:Sign Me Up! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Niddix (544323)
          I'd love to do this. Unfortunately I live in Florida. Its up to the power company to allow you to put power back onto the grid, which they don't want to allow here. So I either need to store the extra power I don't use, or I have to discharge the excess if there is any.
        • Re:Sign Me Up! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Lord Ender (156273)
          "Now If 100 more people in my area do the same? you get a major drop in the need to generate electricity by the company... expand this to 20% of the residents here? you can forget about having to build a new power plant... the consumer is making your power now..."

          Actually, they would need just as many power plants as if there were no solar panels. They would not be running at full capacity during the day, but at night, the plants would be the only source of power.
      • Re:Sign Me Up! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jafac (1449)
        cost of production != market value.

        If this were true, I'm sure these cells would sell retail for $14,999.99. Or whatever one-penny cheaper than it would cost to buy electicity from the power company is. Price is what the market will bear. Not what would make life better for everyone.

        This is why DSL costs $50/mo, instead of $10/mo. The service doesn't cost that much to provide. It's what the market will bear.
    • Lessee: I don't know where you are, but lets say your electricity costs somewhere around $0.12/KWh, which I believe is a little more than average in the US. That's 833 KW/h you are using in a month, or an average of 1.14 KW all the time. Them's some laptops you got there.

      Okay, assuming you get an average of 4 good hours of sun a day (which is pretty typical), you would need about 7KW worth of solar panels, plus enough battery storage for some days without sun, plus a nice inverter, and not counting loss
  • yes!!!
    time for that exoskelton, now i wont have to do any work at all! cheap solar power will allow my mind and my atrophied muscles to move!

    • Re:exoskelton (Score:5, Interesting)

      by astar (203020) <max.stalnaker@gmail.com> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:02PM (#7115528) Homepage
      so what does a watt of electricy cost delivered these days, like from the power company? And one traditional silliness about solar power is that by the time you actual install it, the energy cost of the materials exceeds the expected lifetime output of the solar cells. So the green types who install solar are really pretty brown.
      • Re:exoskelton (Score:5, Informative)

        by zCyl (14362) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:30PM (#7115837)
        so what does a watt of electricy cost delivered these days, like from the power company?

        A watt is a unit of power (energy per time). A watt-hour or kilowatt-hour (power times time) is a unit of energy. One kWh currently runs at around 8 cents, plus around roughly another 30% for taxes and equipment charges (depending on usage).
      • by djtack (545324)
        so what does a watt of electricy cost delivered these days, like from the power company?

        According to some folks at Alliant Energy (one of their reps recently gave a lecture at my engineering college), it costs about $1.00/watt to build a coal power plant. In other words, building a 500 MW coal plant would cost $500 million. Also keep in mind about 50% of that power is lost as heat during transmission - so the cost to the end user is really about twice that.

        Interestingly, in our area large wind turbi
      • Re:exoskelton (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bheerssen (534014)
        That's the whole point of this article. Buy using organic plastics, they can reduce the price considerably. As they further their research, expect the price to drop further. A few more advances like this one and we'll have our affordable solar. These greens you disparage may not be working with ideal technology, but they are working, and making progress.

        Look at history. In the 60's the idea of a 'personal computer' was probably pretty laughable.

  • by AppyPappy (64817) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:54PM (#7115445)
    Every year, it was going to put the power companies out of business. The last time I priced it in 1999, it was still too expensive. I hate to sound conspiritorial, but it sounds to me like someone is jiggling the switch. It is 2003. Why don't we have affordable solar power for home use?
    • A lot of it comes down to power density... even if you can afford solar cells, the power delivered per square length is low. Right now, power efficency is at maybe 15-20%, with pending increases as technology improves. What that means is that we get only 1/5 of the possible power out of our solar cells. Give it time... after all, fuel cells have been around since the mid 1800s...
      • by ThosLives (686517) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:15PM (#7115669) Journal
        I echo this one. The big issue is not cost of solar, but area. After all, the average home uses about 5kW . A typical estimate of solar load is 1 kW/m2. That means, even with 100% efficient cells, you'd need 5 square meters (~53 ft2) to power your house. Not to mention you'd need more than that to store power for night, cloudy weather, etc. That's going to eat up a lot of roof space... and need to be protected and cleaned as well.

        Yeah, we have lots of "empty" space here and there, and I've heard of people wanting to put solar power stations on the moon. I don't know about you, but I don't want to look up at the moon and see piles of man-made crap instead of its current beautiful state. Power stations on the moon makes me want to vomit.

        That said, though, I will embrace the day when I don't have to be connected to any utilities at all...

        "All terrestrial energy sources are really solar anyway; this means we've had a nuclear power industry all along!" - me

        • by Oliver Wendell Jones (158103) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:37PM (#7115930)
          I don't know about you, but I don't want to look up at the moon and see piles of man-made crap instead of its current beautiful state. Power stations on the moon makes me want to vomit.

          1) You must live way out in the country where there is no night time city lights to interfere with your view of the night sky.

          2) You must have really good eyes or a decent telescope

          3) You must have a really weak stomach.

          You could build a kick ass solar power station the size of a major metropolis on the moon and not be able to see it with the naked eye.

          The only drawback I see to solar power stations on the moon is the expense in buying 1,000,000 of those bright orange 50' extension cords so we can run the power back down to Earth.
          • Wow, my big chance make a pointless correction to someone else's post.

            Ave. distance to moon is 384,401 km =~ 1.26115814 x 10^9 feet

            So you'd need 25,223,163 of those 50 foot extension cords (plus a few more to get to your house).

            Don't bother modding me down. I know this is a stupid waste of time.
    • by StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:06PM (#7115572)
      Well there may be a more complex answer found in the book.. [amazon.com]
      "The Hydrogen Economy", Jeremy Rifkin, Tarcher/Penguin 2002

      Not to mention the running out of oil very soon.
    • Well, the economy of solar power really has been getting progressively better all this time. But it certainly hasn't met with optimisitic projections.

      Is there a conspiracy? I doubt it, in the technical sense. But there is no question that all alternative power systems get the short end when it comes to energy generation research dollars. The huge existing fossil fuel infrastructure continues to snap up most of the available research dollar. Alternative energy tends to be something politicians give lip

  • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:55PM (#7115452) Journal
    Does the phrase "Organic Plastics" strike anyone else as exceedingly stupid?

    "Get this! It's plastic... made from LONG CARBON CHAINS! BRILLIANT! Why did we never think of this before!?!"

    Someone want to explain that to me? Aren't all plastics "organic"?
    • Not really stupid, but definitely redundant.
    • by deragon (112986)
      What I remember from my chemistry class is that plastics are composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms only (neglecting special compounds we can add to dope to obtain specific properties). To be considered organic, oxygen must also be present. Plastic chains do not have oxygen.

      I also think that it is the lack of oxygen which makes plastic so durable and not compostable.
      • by sacremon (244448)
        You need oxygen to be a carbohydrate, not organic.

        Methane, Benzene, Toluene and Caffiene are all organic, but none of them contain oxygen.
      • by phliar (87116) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:41PM (#7115977) Homepage
        Sorry, no. Organic chemistry is carbon chemistry. For instance, the study of alkanes (hydrocarbons like octane, aka petrol/gasoline) is organic chemistry. While oxygen is present in just about all the interesting organic compunds, it is not a necessary condition. Also, "plastic" is a pretty generic term for synthetic polymers -- phenolic resins such as Bakelite, for instance, have oxygen atoms.
    • Aren't all plastics "organic"?

      IIRC, isn't silicone also classified as a plastic? That's not exactly organic. And what about Teflon?

  • This should make space probes, satellites, etc that use solar energy much cheaper.
    • OK, so I'm not a rocket scientist or anything, but wouldn't the use of solar cells get less effective the farther away you are from the Sun? After all, it's the conversion from photon to electron that generates the electricity and since the number of photons decreases the farther away you get, eventually you wouldn't have critical mass enough to be self-sustaining, right?

      Alternatively, you'd have to build one heck of a big solar cell to account for the reduced photon's per square meter as you travel farth
    • At least one of the research approaches that was described was for making solar cells that were less efficient but much cheaper. For spacecraft, that can be a bad tradeoff, because you really care a lot about size and weight. Less efficient means that you need more surface area, so you need bigger panels, and the extra cost of launching bigger panels could quite easily outweigh the savings in the hardware cost of the solar cells.
  • by ivan256 (17499) * on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:55PM (#7115457)
    Dr. Michael Gratzel (credited with pioneering the technology in the article) has a startup in Lowell, MA that has been working towards commercializing polymer based photovoltaics since 2001 called Konarka Technologies [konarkatech.com], and from what I understand from talking to them, they're almost done. I wonder if this involves some technology license, or if STMicro is going to beat Dr. Gratzel out the door with his own technology.
  • don't get too. . . (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grell (9450) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:55PM (#7115459) Homepage
    Excited.

    Reading the article leaves you with a lot of "will, should, could" and no prototype.

    And the $0.20 is a target to be reached, not an acheived goal.

    What's Slashdot becoming, a free way to secure prior art against when companies actually has a patentable working model?

    Grell

    • by FroMan (111520)
      Not just that, but according to the article I read about this, they are shooting for only 10% effeciency. That means more sq. feet (sq. metric length unit for those out of the US) requirements. Area is already a major limiting factor with solar now.

      One thing you never hear about with solar energy also is that the panel absorb a certain amount of heat that would normally be absorbed by the earth. Will this cause issues on a large scale?

      Similar with wind generators, the energy taken from the wind is also
  • by Savatte (111615) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:56PM (#7115475) Homepage Journal
    to successfully set up and harness the power of the sun using solar cells would mean venturing out into the sun. what's a geek to do?

    It's like a forcing yourself to drink some nasty cough syrup to make a cold go away.
    • by Corgha (60478) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:25PM (#7116489)
      to successfully set up and harness the power of the sun using solar cells would mean venturing out into the sun. what's a geek to do?

      Ummmm... set them up at night?

      That's when we're awake, anyway, and our eyes have long ago adjusted to living in cave-like darkness, so it all works out. Remember to wear eye protection if the moon is out.
  • SpheralSolar (Score:5, Informative)

    by SubtleNuance (184325) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:57PM (#7115477) Journal
    See this company: http://www.spheralsolar.com/ [spheralsolar.com] their technology makes very cheap, very efficient, very flexible solar-cells... they are building a massive manufacturing facitliy as-we-type, they do small(er) runs currently in their original test/research facility.

    this is one to watch.
    • This company [ovonics.com] is also making good progress toward affordable solar energy. They have a roll-to-roll process that starts with a roll of raw stock at one end and at the other end you get a roll of amorphous thin film solar cell stock.

    • Re:SpheralSolar (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      very cheap, very efficient, very flexible solar-cells...

      very cheap is a lie. they are still closely price d to traditional glass cells.

      I use only recycled cells, I get them for 1/3rd the price that these "cheap cells" cost and achieve very close to the same efficiency.. (15% compared to 20%)

      Fresnel lenses increase output even greater for much less cost (but require a sun tracker)

      I'll stick with my surplus and recycled solar panels... I spent less than $2500.00 in panels and havent paid an electric bi
  • by Wise Dragon (71071) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @12:57PM (#7115478) Homepage
    This is not an announcement of any new solar cells. It's a press release detailing an advanced research program that STMicroelectronics hopes will eventually lead to cheap solar cells. RTFA whover posted this.
    • Exactly. I'd say mod parent up, but he's already at the max. Raise the mod point maximum for this man/woman deserveth more!

    • by Croaker (10633) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:34PM (#7115884)

      To quote the CNN Article:

      AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -- A major European chip maker said this week it had discovered new ways to produce solar cells which will generate electricity twenty times cheaper than today's solar panels.

      So, the question is, did Reuters screw up, or is there an announcement that didn't make it to the STMicroelectronics page that was linked to in the body?

  • They mention that they're 10% effecient, as opposed to more expensive setups that are 15%-20%--I wonder if it means a much larger surface area will be needed in order to get much benefit out of it? Any solarheads (or whatever the group name is) have any thoughts on that?
  • by j_dot_bomb (560211) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:00PM (#7115502)
    Power companies provide at about 15c per kilowatt-HOUR. What does 20c per watt mean ? Meaning running continuously 12 hrs a day for 20 years ? Watt is a power unit. Watt-hours is energy.
    • Power vs Energy (Score:3, Informative)

      by nuggz (69912)
      Solar cells generate power.
      Power companies sell energy.

      20 cents per Watt means that will buy you enough solar cell to generate one watt.
      If you run it for 1 hour, you get 1 watt-hour.

      Energy = Power x Time = Force x Displacement

      Don't they teach physics anymore?
    • The only way this makes sense is if you say equivalent solar panel will cost 40c per watt (and all the solar efficiency / 20 year amortization is hidden). But it is unclear that is what they mean or if they screwed up.
    • At $.20/watt, you have $200/kw. So if you want to break even, you have to run long enough to average $.15/hour, or 1333 1/3 hours. That's less than a year to break even.

      At $4/watt, you need 20 times as long to break even, and you'll be lucky to have the system last that long.
    • Power companies provide at about 15c per kilowatt-HOUR. What does 20c per watt mean ? Meaning running continuously 12 hrs a day for 20 years ? Watt is a power unit. Watt-hours is energy.

      I'm wondering about the same thing. My guess is that it costs 20 cents/watt in capital outlay. The article states that it costs 40 cents per watt for traditional plants. So I would guess that a 250 kW facility could be built for one hundred thousand dollars. This doesn't seem out of line, considering that they do thi

  • by t0qer (230538) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:00PM (#7115504) Homepage Journal
    If you really want an ecologicly friendly source of power look into electric eels. Sure they're a bit slimey and would get you weird looks from airport customs, but for anyone looking for a macho ego boost, "Is that an eel in your pocket or are you just happy too see me?"

  • Potential Importance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns@hotmai l . com> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:01PM (#7115516)
    I've lived off the grid for over 6 years now.

    Even with existing prices, it is about as cheap to buy cheaper land in outlying areas and generate your own power as it is to pay a power company _and_ pay higher prices for land. The main problem is you have to have a fair degree of mechanical aptitude to keep one of these systems running reliably.

    Cheap solar cells would open up quite a bit of land for human use that is accessible by road but has no power access. When you combine that with WiFi/sattellite access the infrastructure advantages of cities become far less pronounced.

    • by gwernol (167574) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:19PM (#7115712)

      Even with existing prices, it is about as cheap to buy cheaper land in outlying areas and generate your own power as it is to pay a power company _and_ pay higher prices for land. The main problem is you have to have a fair degree of mechanical aptitude to keep one of these systems running reliably.


      No, the main problem is that unless you are generating your power using only renewable resources, you are likely causing a disproportionately high amount of pollution. Almost all power generation from fossil fuels is much more efficient if done on a large scale at a centralized power generation station. If we abandonded the grid and went to a lot of localized power generation facilities, the overall impact on the environment would be severe.
    • When you combine that with WiFi/sattellite access the infrastructure advantages of cities become far less pronounced.

      If you ignore the noise, trash, and congestion, a city offers these advantages:

      1) Cultural diversity (real restaurants, a symphony, interesting festivals, etc.)
      2) Ambulance service

      Aside from those, cities really do suck pretty hard, especially mid-sized American sprawls, where it takes 30 minutes to go seven miles. Seriously, it's better to live in downtown if you can afford it than live
    • by jniver (91943)
      My question to you is about how much did it cost to setup this type of a system. I setup a solar power system using a solar battery charger, a 12 volt battery, and power inverter for my shed. The total cost was about 100 bucks.

      I would love to have some stuff in my house moved off the main power, but cannot justify cost of equipment over the cost of using the power company.

      Are there places out there where you are getting the equipment for reasonable prices? Is this a homebuilt system, or did you buy one
    • by Allen Varney (449382) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:36PM (#7116613) Homepage

      Cheap solar cells would open up quite a bit of land for human use that is accessible by road but has no power access. When you combine that with WiFi/satellite access the infrastructure advantages of cities become far less pronounced.

      ...Until your well runs dry. And the septic tank fills up. And the dump near your house gets too smelly. And your car runs out of gas. And you break your ankle and need a doctor.

  • by Kandel (624601) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:01PM (#7115518) Journal
    "The new solar cells would even be able to compete with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which costs about $0.40 per watt"

    This is certainly excellent news. With oil reserves slowly running down and with countries that require 'liberation' slowly dwindling, we certainly need new cheap energy sources. It's great to see a product has been created that harnesses solar energy to the point that it could one day replace all need for fossil fuels. This is also have many positive ramifacations on the environment, making a lot of people happy.
    Another large source of energy that has been largely untapped is geothermal energy, which is obtained through convering heat from the Earth into usable energy.
    It really demonstrates the effect that these large oil corporations have on our world, when there are much better cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels, yet these are being ignored for the sake of the oil companies.
    • This war on terror (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anarchima (585853)
      Perhaps the United States govt. could spend just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars it is throwing at the oil companies, on some serious R&D into clean energy...Meh.
    • It really demonstrates the effect that these large oil corporations have on our world, when there are much better cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels, yet these are being ignored for the sake of the oil companies.

      Oil companies like BP [bpsolar.com], ChevronTexaco [solaraccess.com], and Shell [shell.com], right?
  • Its currently vaporware of course. (And see my comment about cnn's story using 20c / watt which means nothing to me) But if it really becomes 1/2 cost of oil, sell your energy stocks and watch for middle east termoil.
  • by chronos2266 (514349) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:04PM (#7115548)
    Now I can wear a flashy solar cell scarf to power my MIThril jacket.
  • This technology has been progressing for several years, and was bound to happen eventually, but with the patent system the oil companies can and will but it out and lock it up for the next 20 years, in addition to new innovations that this technology might spawn.
    • Okay, in your unlikely conspiracy scenario it gets developed, bought by the oil companies, held back for 17 years, and then becomes public domain.

      Without patents this is what would happen: Person or persons would like to start a company that makes cheap solar cells. Person or persons realize that if they produce these cheap solar cells they will have to spend money. They then realize that without patent protection another company will start selling their product and be able to undercut them because this o

  • by redcup (441955) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:06PM (#7115574)
    Darn... I just bought a solar powered watch (Citizen Eco-drive) - which requires a few hours of office level light, several minutes under a bright lamp, or just a few minutes of direct sunlight, to recharge each day.

    This article makes me wonder if a substantial amount of the price was because of the power cells (no silver or gold). I'm sure a watch doesn't need the best efficiency (15-20%) of the current pricy solar cells - 10% efficiency would mean my new watch needs about 30 minutes under a lamp rather than 15-20. Big deal. Of if I'm lazy, I'll stand in the sun for 5 minutes instead of 3. :-)

    Making solar power affordable, attractive and practical is the first step in converting to environmentally friendly sources of power. Cost effectiveness is a primary obstacle for new technologies, especially for the environmentally friendly. I guess the other would be defeating the entrenched monopolies that currently rely on oil and other natural resources.

    Here's to a cleaner planet!

    Cheers,

    RC
  • Enemy Combatants: Carted Off to Guantanamo"

    Bush commented "We didn't just have a war for oil to have folks stop using it. Switching to Solar means the terrorists have won."

  • Welcome to our solar panel silk-screening overlords.

    Welcome to our Sherwin-Williams Solar Panel Paint overlords.

    Welcome to the avegarge bozo with a solar panel spray can overlord.

    Welcome to...

    Oh fuck it.

  • by Ophidian P. Jones (466787) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:14PM (#7115659)
    I don't believe this story for a second. Not a bit.

    For decades I have been folowing solar cell technology, absolutely salivating at the promises that efficiency rating would soon rise above 15%, or that costs would no longer be prohibitively expensive or damaging to the environment (moreso than more conventional, polluting alternatives).

    Well, I've given up. I've read shitty pie-in-the-sky stories like this almost every year for the last 25-years.

    Now, if someone on Slashdot tells me that they bought these +50% efficient solar cells in Home Depot, that's when I'll get excited. Like I'll get excited when Chevrolet markets a flying car or my city puts a nuclear fusion power plant into service.
  • This makes it look like they are announcing a new product or something. Actually, they are announcing an R&D program which they HOPE will reduce the cost of solar cells. Hardly headline news.
  • Deploy the solar cells and hook them up to racks of fuel cells. I remember from an article in the Financial Times back in 2000 of a British start-up that had the very idea... I believe on a large scale, this would make solar just as ideal as fossil fuels for electricity production, give or take some government interference (err, "incentives")...

  • Over a typical 20-year life span of a solar cell, a single produced watt should cost as little as $0.20, compared with the current $4.

    A Watt is a unit of power (energy per unit time e.g 1 Watt = 1 Joule per second). So if the above statement is correct then it means that a solar panel that produces 1 kilowatt of power (i.e. 1 kilojoule per second) would cost $200. The "typical 20-year life span" stuff is a bit of a red herring. it just means you will need to fork out another $200 after about 20 years w

  • by Ogerman (136333) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:23PM (#7115751)
    Well, they've not actually developed these cells yet, but here's why the need exists:

    Lets do the math.. We have $4 / watt for current generation solar cells which last 20 years..

    Suppose that a "1 watt" solar cell can produce that 1 watt from 10am to 6pm each day (8 hours) in the average installation (unless you live in Pittsburgh or Seattle! :) We'll call that the average because it won't usually put out 1W and yet it'll always produce at least some power. Therefore, said solar cell produces 8 Watt-hour's of energy each day.

    8Wh x 365 days x 20 years / (1000W / 1kW) = 58.4 kilowatt-hours during the lifespan of the cell.

    $4 / 58.4 = $0.0685 / kWh

    My local electric utility costs about $0.10 / kWh, making solar sound cheaper. However, the cost of the individual cells is only half the cost of a solar installation. Once you add in the cost of storage batteries, a charge controller, a high-efficiency DC->AC inverter, etc. now your solar installation is typically MORE expensive than the utility! And it's worse for the environment too with the silicon production chemicals, lead-acid batteries, etc. Yuck!

    In contrast, if ST can even reach half their goal and produce $0.40 / watt cells, now we're looking at $0.00685 / kWh for the cells themselves. Even if battery storage technology is not improved by then, at least you can supplement your utility needs during the day at very minimal cost!
    • by William Tanksley (1752) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:09PM (#7116315)
      You don't need batteries if you're on the grid -- you only need a good inverter to match you up with the grid's phase, and you'll wind up supplying power to the grid during your best generation hours (which happen to match up with their peak demand/most expensive hours), and taking it during their cheapest hours.

      Most companies (possibly all) can bill you according to peak/off peak usage and contribution; so you can use as much as you want at night, and your daytime contribution will pay for it.

      -Billy
  • Over a typical 20-year life span of a solar cell, a single produced watt should cost as little as $0.20, compared with the current $4.

    Ok. I guess I'm stupid. My power bill says I get charged like $.10 per kilowatt hour (kwh.) This says a target of $.20 per produced watt. Someone want to score some karma and explain why this, if it happens, will be cheaper?
  • So if it costs $0.20 per watt over 20 years, then we're talking $0.20 for every 20 Watt-Years, which would be one cent per Watt-Year.

    If there are approximately 8760 hours in a year, then we're talking $0.00000114 per Watt-Hour, or $0.00114 per KWh. That's preeetty cheap! Or is my math wrong?
  • "STMicroelectronics, one of the world's leading manufacturers of semiconductor devices, today released details of an advanced research program that it hopes will substantially reduce the cost of generating electricity from solar power."

    They are announcing a research PROGRAM, not a new technology.

    Sheesh...
  • by ChicoLance (318143) * <lance@orner.net> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:33PM (#7115876)
    It seems like solar power efficiency has been at about 10-20% for about forever now, and I thought I read somewhere that where purifiying the semiconductors will get you more efficient at a higher price, there was still a maximum amount you could get out of current designs or theories.

    Is there some sort of theoretical limit we're hitting with current technologies, or are there different technologies that may have some promise? This article doesn't address efficiency, it just says they can make them cheaper than anybody else.

    Any links or references would be appriciated.
  • $25,000 (Score:3, Informative)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @01:51PM (#7116106)
    Last time I priced [bpsolar.com] solar power it was about $25,000 for my residence before rebates. Knock $6000 off for rebates, and it's still almost $19,000 out of pocket. It would take an estimated 27 1/2 years to pay for itself (assuming no maintenence since I don't know what that would cost). By all means, keep up the research on this, but to expect joe sixpack to adopt solar power right now for a household is just not realistic.

    It's not that I'm opposed to solar power, but until something can be done to bring the price out of the stratoshere, it's simply not economicaly plausable right now. I generaly try to be environmentaly sensitive, but I shouldn't have to be a millionaire to make a significant contribution. All of which disregards the energy spent making the things and the fact that used solar panels are bad for the environment! I think I'll stick with nuclear energy for now.
  • by heroine (1220) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:14PM (#7116373) Homepage
    If you've got $5 million for an acre of land in an area of the world which gets sunlight you might get the same amount of power as 1 square foot of expensive solar panel. The real story was on 9/30 in EE Times.

    >they hope to use nanotechnology to produce cells
    >with lower efficiencies -- about 10 percent rather
    >15 to 20 percent -- while reducing manufacturing
    >costs

    Nanotechnology of course means organic chemistry in a time when nanotechnology sounds better. It would probably be cheaper just to make solar panels using Chinese laborers instead of fullerene and copper.
  • by maddu (522722) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @02:31PM (#7116565)
    I've worked in the Conductive Polymers area for about a year and I can tell you that this article seems more of wishful thinking than any. Conductive polymers are exceedingly difficult to work with, have a very narrow range of pH under which they work, their properties have not been sufficiently characterized and so on. The replacement of liquid electrolytes sounds exceedingly difficult if not impossible to me, atleast from my experience.

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