Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Solar Cells for Cheap
Technology Review (MIT) ^ | September 12, 2006 | By Kevin Bullis

Posted on 09/12/2006 9:29:36 AM PDT by aculeus

Not everyone gets a solar cell named after them: but Michael Gratzel did. He says his novel technology, which promises electricity-generating windows and low manufacturing costs, is ready for the market.

Michael Grätzel, chemistry professor at the Ecoles Polytechniques Fédérales de Lausanne in Switzerland, is most famous for inventing a new type of solar cell that could cost much less than conventional photovoltaics. Now, 15 years after the first prototypes, what he calls the dye-sensitized cell (and everyone else calls the Grätzel cell) is in limited production by Konarka, a company based in Lowell, MA, and will soon be more widely available.

Grätzel is now working on taking advantage of the ability of nanocrystals to dramatically increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Technology Review asked him about the challenges to making cheap solar cells, and why new technologies like his, which take much less energy to manufacture than conventional solar cells, are so important.

Technology Review: Why has it been so difficult to make efficient, yet inexpensive solar cells that could compete with fossil fuels as sources of electricity?

Michael Grätzel: It's perhaps just the way things evolved. Silicon cells were first made for [outer] space, and there was a lot of money available so the technology that was first developed was an expensive technology. The cell we have been developing on the other hand is closer to photosynthesis.

TR: What is its similarity to photosynthesis?

MG: That has to do with the absorption of light. Light generates electrons and positive carriers and they have to be transported. In a semiconductor silicon cell, silicon material absorbs light, but it also conducts the negative and positive charge carriers. An electric field has to be there to separate those charges. All of this has to be done by one material--silicon has to perform at least three functions. To do that, you need very pure materials, and that brings the price up.

On the other hand, the dye cell uses a molecule to absorb light. It's like chlorophyll in photosynthesis, a molecule that absorbs light. But the chlorophyll's not involved in charge transport. It just absorbs light and generates a charge, and then those charges are conducted by some well-established mechanisms. That's exactly what our system does.

The real breakthrough came with the nanoscopic particles. You have hundreds of particles stacked on top of each other in our light harvesting system.

TR: So we have a stack of nanosized particles...

MG: ...covered with dye.

TR: The dye absorbs the light, and the electron is transferred to the nanoparticles?

MG: Yes.

TR: The image of solar cells is changing. They used to be ugly boxes added to roofs as an afterthought. But now we are starting to see more attractive packaging, and even solar shingles (see "Beyond the Solar Panel"). Will dye-sensitized cells contribute to this evolution?

MG: Actually, that's one of our main advantages. It's a commonly accepted fact that the photovoltaic community thinks that the "building integrated" photovoltaics, that's where we have to go. Putting, as you say, those "ugly" scaffolds on the roof--this is not going to be appealing, and it's also expensive. That support structure costs a lot of money in addition to the cells, and so it's absolutely essential to make cells that are an integral part.

[With our cells] the normal configuration has glass on both sides, and can be made to look like a colored glass. This could be used as a power-producing window or skylights or building facades. The wall or window itself is photovoltaicly active.

TR: The cells can also be made on a flexible foil. Could we see them on tents, or built into clothing to charge iPods?

MG: Absolutely. Konarka has a program with the military to have cells built into uniforms. You can imagine why. The soldier has so much electrical gear and so they want to boost their batteries. Batteries are a huge problem--the weight--and batteries cost a huge amount of money.

Konarka has just announced a 20-megawatt facility for a foil-backed, dye-sensitized solar cell. This would still be for roofs. But there is a military application for tents, and Konarka is participating in that program.

TR: When are we going to be able to buy your cells?

MG: I expect in the next couple of years. The production equipment is already there. Konarka has a production line that can make up to one megawatt [of photovoltaic capacity per year].

TR: How does the efficiency of these production cells compare with conventional silicon?

MG: With regard to the dye-cells, silicon has a much higher efficiency; it's about twice [as much]. But when it comes to real pickup of solar power, our cell has two advantages: it picks up [light] earlier in the morning and later in the evening. And also the temperature effect isn't there--our cell is as efficient at 65 degrees [Celsius] as it is at 25 degrees, and silicon loses about 20 percent, at least.

If you put all of this together, silicon still has an advantage, but maybe a 20 or 30 percent advantage, not a factor of two.

TR: The main advantage of your cells is cost?

MG: A factor of 4 or 5 [lower cost than silicon] is realistic. If it's building integrated, you get additional advantages because, say you have glass, and replace it [with our cells], you would have had the glass cost anyway.

TR: How close is that to being competitive with electricity from fossil fuels?

MG: People say you should be down to 50 cents per peak watt. Our cost could be a little bit less than one dollar manufactured in China. But it depends on where you put your solar cells. If you put them in regions where you have a lot of sunshine, then the equation becomes different: you get faster payback.

TR: Silicon cells have a head-start ramping up production levels. This continues to raise the bar for new technologies, which don't yet have economies of scale. Can a brand-new type of cell catch up to silicon?

MG: A very reputable journal [Photon Consulting] just published predictions for module prices for silicon for the next 10 years, and they go up the first few years. In 10 years, they still will be above three dollars, and that's not competitive.

Yes, people are trying to make silicon in a different way, but there's another issue: energy payback. It takes a lot of energy to make silicon out of sand, because sand is very stable. If you want to sustain growth at 40-50 percent, and it takes four or five years to pay all of the energy back [from the solar cells], then all of the energy the silicon cells produce, and more, will be used to fuel the growth.

And mankind doesn't gain anything. Actually, there's a negative balance. If the technology needs a long payback, then it will deplete the world of energy resources. Unless you can bring that payback time down to where it is with dye-cells and thin-film cells, then you cannot sustain that big growth. And if you cannot sustain that growth, then the whole technology cannot make a contribution.

TR: Why does producing your technology require less energy?

MG: The silicon people need to make silicon out of silicon oxide. We use an oxide that is already existing: titanium oxide. We don't need to make titanium out of titanium oxide.

TR: An exciting area of basic research now is using nanocrystals, also called quantum dots, to help get past theoretical limits to solar-cell efficiency. Can dye-sensitized cells play a role in the development of this approach?

MG: When you go to quantum dots, you get a chance to actually harvest several electrons with one photon. So how do you collect those? The quantum dots could be used instead of a [dye] sensitizer in solar cells. When you put those on the titanium dioxide support, the quantum dot transfers an electron very rapidly. And we have shown that to happen.

TR: You are campaigning for increased solar-cell research funding, and not just for Grätzel cells.

MG: There's room for everybody.

I am excited that the United States is taking a genuine interest in solar right now, after the complete neglect for 20 years. The Carter administration supported solar, but then during the Reagan administration, it all dropped down by a factor of 10. And labs like NREL [National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO] had a hard time surviving. But I think there is going to be more funding.

Copyright Technology Review 2006.


TOPICS: Extended News
KEYWORDS: energy; renewenergy; solar
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-72 next last

1 posted on 09/12/2006 9:29:36 AM PDT by aculeus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: aculeus

Bottom line: how much would three medium sized panels on my roof cost me, and how much less would my monthly electric bill be?


2 posted on 09/12/2006 9:32:25 AM PDT by JamesP81 ("Never let your schooling interfere with your education" --Mark Twain)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

Absolutely amazing! Thanks for posting this.


3 posted on 09/12/2006 9:34:50 AM PDT by Constitution Day (Please do not emanate into the penumbra.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
But I think there is going to be more funding.

~sigh...I long for the day when solar is evaluated on it's merits rather than how much funding it gets.

4 posted on 09/12/2006 9:34:57 AM PDT by Drango (A liberal's compassion is limited only by the size of someone else's wallet.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
With regard to the dye-cells, silicon has a much higher efficiency; it's about twice [as much].

Er, silicon cells are a lousy 10%. It would take a month for a 1 meter silicon cell to produce the energy in 1 gallon of gasoline.

5 posted on 09/12/2006 9:35:57 AM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

Ping for later reference - good work posting this information!


6 posted on 09/12/2006 9:41:38 AM PDT by NotJustAnotherPrettyFace
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: JamesP81

check here

http://www.homepower.org


7 posted on 09/12/2006 9:42:44 AM PDT by UB355 (Slower I(t was greatTraffic Keep Right)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: NotJustAnotherPrettyFace; All

http://www.konarka.com/


8 posted on 09/12/2006 9:44:01 AM PDT by aculeus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Constitution Day

Bump for investment look also.

We **need** this in the mountains.


9 posted on 09/12/2006 9:51:07 AM PDT by Blueflag (Res ipsa loquitor)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

Thanks for the link.

That looks like a promising company.


10 posted on 09/12/2006 9:53:50 AM PDT by Sundog (In a world without Walls or Fences, who needs Windows or Gates?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
Very interesting post indeed. I just did a tour of a manufacturer of photovoltaic panels and they were saying that there is a real problem in obtaining quality ingredients. There were some other important things mentioned in the article - one is that the output is not degraded by operating at higher temperatures. I wonder what the expected life of this product might be and if it is affected by the temperature that it operates at.
11 posted on 09/12/2006 10:37:41 AM PDT by Asfarastheeastisfromthewest... ( "Sooner or later in life, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences." Robert Louis Stevenson)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: UB355
Or try http://www.otherpower.com/

Their homemade wind mills are interesting.

12 posted on 09/12/2006 11:01:08 AM PDT by Abogado (The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they are realities.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

couple this with (http://www.cree.com) white LED's and we have a significant decrease in the demand for oil to power lighting.

I submit we need to have solar cell be a tax exempt product as a matter of national security. Less oil dependance equals increased national security.


13 posted on 09/12/2006 11:09:18 AM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE! http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: longtermmemmory
I submit we need to have solar cell be a tax exempt product as a matter of national security.

They would work better if they were reality exempt as well. Sorry, did you people miss the bit where he said the technology is less efficient than silicon which already SUCKS?

14 posted on 09/12/2006 11:27:04 AM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: ibheath

bump for later read.


15 posted on 09/12/2006 11:34:53 AM PDT by ibheath (Born again and grateful to God.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: All
Here's 60 square meters of cells delivering enough juice, well during the day, for a couple hair dryers.

Communication Research Laboratory, Tokyo.

Folks, solar doesn't work because Reagan defunded Carter's NREL, solar doesn't work because the energy density sucks. Geez.

16 posted on 09/12/2006 11:45:05 AM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
They would work better if they were reality exempt as well. Sorry, did you people miss the bit where he said the technology is less efficient than silicon which already SUCKS?

He also said they were cheaper by a factor of 4 or 5. If he's right on his numbers, his technology will outcompete silicon based cells. Whether it's competitive with fossil fuels any time before the 22nd century is another matter. His numbers ($1.00 vs $0.50) suggest it's not currently competitive. But that's a lot closer to being competitive than silicon.

17 posted on 09/12/2006 11:49:46 AM PDT by ModelBreaker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: ModelBreaker
his technology will outcompete silicon based cells.

If Silicon cells were *FREE* they would NOT be a viable alternative for our energy needs.

Anybody who can do elementary school math should know this.

18 posted on 09/12/2006 12:04:53 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
enough juice, well during the day, for a couple hair dryers

21,426kwh = 2.5 yrs. of electric(for me)= $3K

19 posted on 09/12/2006 1:19:21 PM PDT by Realism (Some believe that the facts-of-life are open to debate.....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
If Silicon cells were *FREE* they would NOT be a viable alternative for our energy needs

Does this mean that free silicon solar cells would not make us energy independent or that free silicon solar cells would not be economically competitive with existing electric generation. If the former, don't you think that's a strawman argument.

I'm genuinely curious about how free would not be viable. Could you explain it to me? (I'm pretty good at 'high-school math' but am not a silicon energy engineer--so pitch the explanation to about that level).

20 posted on 09/12/2006 1:22:34 PM PDT by ModelBreaker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: aculeus; RedStateRocker; Dementon; eraser2005; Calpernia; DTogo; Maelstrom; Yehuda; babble-on; ...
Renewable Energy Ping

Please Freep Mail me if you'd like on/off

21 posted on 09/12/2006 1:26:01 PM PDT by Uncledave
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: longtermmemmory

I'm all for the products you mentioned, and the sentiment of getting off oil, but fyi oil is hardly used to generate electricity in this country: It's mostly coal and nat gas with some nukes & hydro. Oil is used for transportation, industrial purposes and heating in the NE.


22 posted on 09/12/2006 1:36:07 PM PDT by Uncledave
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: ModelBreaker
Does this mean that free silicon solar cells would not make us energy independent or that free silicon solar cells would not be economically competitive with existing electric generation.

Both.

23 posted on 09/12/2006 1:36:59 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235

I thought the energy cost was the issue.

I am thinking for mundane things like outside lighting and secondary lighting like signage.


24 posted on 09/12/2006 1:42:00 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE! http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: longtermmemmory
I thought the energy cost was the issue.

Energy density is a large part of ultimate cost. 60 square meters to run a hair dryer is huge!! The average household would need hundreds of square meters of cells to say nothing of industrial energy needs. Even if the cell were free you still have energy storage costs, you still need people to come and shovel snow off the cells or wipe dust off of them, you still need real power generation capacity for when its cloudy, and you would need to cover several States with solar cells.

I live in the mountains and have modest power needs. I've run the numbers on solar and quickly concluded that even the battery banks required for modest power were cost prohibitive. Of course, one of my neighbors claims to be 100% solar with 20 square meters of cells....But late at night...there is this mysterious humming sound.

25 posted on 09/12/2006 1:52:58 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: Uncledave
I'm all for the products you mentioned, and the sentiment of getting off oil, but fyi oil is hardly used to generate electricity in this country: It's mostly coal and nat gas with some nukes & hydro.

I believe the big ConEd generating plant on the East Side of Manhattan runs on bunker fuel ... heavy oil similar to that burned in ships. Not sure about other NYC plants but doubt they burn coal and know they're not nuke.

26 posted on 09/12/2006 2:30:22 PM PDT by aculeus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: aculeus; Bob Ireland

Great article! Thanks for posting it. Good investment possibilities with it.................FRegards


27 posted on 09/12/2006 2:40:31 PM PDT by gonzo (.........Good grief!...I'm as confused as a baby in a topless club!.........)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
(m^2 / 406 W) * (2300 W) ~= 5.7 m^2

Not 60 m^2. Where is the error?

28 posted on 09/12/2006 2:57:52 PM PDT by Caesar Soze
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235

You compared it to hair dryers (1200W each) which by their nature use a lot of power for a short period of time. Why didn't you say that 2.3kW could power 35 60W light bulbs? I only have three 60W light bulbs on in my house at night. My TV only uses 300W. 2.3kW would power seven of them. My computer runs about 160W and my refrigerator about 700. 2.3kW would go a long way towards satisfying my electrical demands.


29 posted on 09/12/2006 3:36:54 PM PDT by FreedomCalls (It's the "Statue of Liberty," not the "Statue of Security.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

ping


30 posted on 09/12/2006 3:44:55 PM PDT by southland (Isaiah 17:1)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Asfarastheeastisfromthewest...

"I wonder .... if it is affected by the temperature that it operates at."

Not as much as silicon, according to the inventor. It's in the story.


31 posted on 09/12/2006 3:49:11 PM PDT by Kahonek
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: FreedomCalls

I have read several reports of people who either used their own money entirely or counted on subsidies and converted their homes to near-total solar. This costs from $20,000 to $50,000
and results in usually roof-mounted photovoltaic panels delivering from 4 to 6 kw.Large battery banks and inverters are also part of the package as is buying the most energy effiecient appliances.

Frost free refrigerators and freezers use lots more electric than the earlier models of our parents. There are a couple of companies that make rather high priced units which use a small portion of the usual ones.

Anyone who thinks oil isn't subsidized should check his reality meter. The military cost alone to keep it flowing are enormous.Not to mention the political deals with less than stellar personages.

You really can't convince me it is good for the U.S. to be dependent on others for food,fuel,fiber, or anything else.


32 posted on 09/12/2006 4:17:10 PM PDT by hoosierham (Waddaya mean Freedom isn't free ?;will you take a creditcard?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: Caesar Soze
(m^2 / 406 W) * (2300 W) ~= 5.7 m^2 Not 60 m^2. Where is the error?

You left out the 10% efficiency of the Si cells and so you need to scale the area of the cells by nearly 10X.

33 posted on 09/12/2006 4:26:53 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: FreedomCalls
You compared it to hair dryers (1200W each) which by their nature use a lot of power for a short period of time. Why didn't you say that 2.3kW could power 35 60W light bulbs? I only have three 60W light bulbs on in my house at night. My TV only uses 300W. 2.3kW would power seven of them. My computer runs about 160W and my refrigerator about 700. 2.3kW would go a long way towards satisfying my electrical demands.

You need to throw your washer,dryer,over AC and heat into the mix as these are your primary power needs (which are small compared to those needed to operate our industry and infrastructure) Also that is 2.3 KW is peak production. I shot the photo around 1 pm. Take a 50% hit for the 12 hours of darkness. Take another 25% hit for nonideal angles of the sun. Take another hit for storage.

You can't live in the modern world on <1 KW average power draw with a footprint the size of a house.

34 posted on 09/12/2006 4:37:24 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

$5 a watt is still the price. What is the price for this new tech?


35 posted on 09/12/2006 4:40:48 PM PDT by RightWhale (Repeal the law of the excluded middle)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: aculeus

ping for later.


36 posted on 09/12/2006 5:16:16 PM PDT by aquila48
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
"Er, silicon cells are a lousy 10%."

What do you mean by that?

"It would take a month for a 1 meter silicon cell to produce the energy in 1 gallon of gasoline."

Once that gallon of gasoline produces it's energy the gasoline is gone. I don't know if it takes "1 meter" of silicon cell to produce the energy of gasoline or not, but those solar panels are going to continue working for years and years and even after a couple of decades they'll still be working even if they will be converting less sunshine into electricity than they were when they were first made. That gallon of gasoline will be long gone.
37 posted on 09/12/2006 7:58:55 PM PDT by TKDietz (")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
"If Silicon cells were *FREE* they would NOT be a viable alternative for our energy needs."

What a load of nonsense. I'd be happy to cover my entire south roof with free solar panels. I'd plop down a couple of grand for an inverter and have my electric company install a net metering meter so I'd still be connected to the grid and my meter would turn backwards when my system produces more power than I'm using. I wouldn't even worry about batteries because I'd use grid power when my system wasn't producing enough for my needs. For just a few grand for the installation, the inverter and a few other things I'd need, I'd have a system that produces more than enough electricity for my needs in the winter (gas heat) and most of what I need in the summer with my air conditioner running most of the time. I'd save enough money in a few years to pay off my entire investment and every penny I saved after that would be gravy.

The problem with solar power is not that the energy density sucks, it's that the panels cost way too much. The energy density isn't great, but provided people live somewhere that gets plenty of sun, most who own homes have enough space to install enough panels to cover all or most of their electricity needs. The problem is that such a system would end up costing them a fortune and it would take decades to pay off their initial investment. The biggest part of the initial investment by far would be the cost of the panels.

Solar panels, films, shingles, etc., are getting cheaper, but they're still several times more expensive than the need to be before the masses start buying into that technology to power their homes. The cheaper this technology gets though, the more people we will see using it if anything to reduce their ongoing electric bills. Think about it. If the prices dropped significantly and you could get a low maintenance grid-tied solar elecrictric system installed for say, seven grand, that saves you an average of $100 a month in electric bills, it would pay for itself in less than six years. After that you'd have an extra $100 a month, or more as electric rates rise, to invest or spend on something you might enjoy. If you could spend a little more and increase the amount of sunshine you convert into electricity, you could save even more after you cover your investment. Take a few other steps to reduce your energy consumption and you could have several hundred dollars a month more in disposable income. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

Send some of those free solar panels my way.
38 posted on 09/12/2006 11:45:02 PM PDT by TKDietz (")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: TKDietz
I wouldn't even worry about batteries because I'd use grid power when my system wasn't producing enough for my needs.

Which is to say you would have added power (a very small intermittent and expensive amount) but not capacity to the grid. You still require that real power plants capable of on demand generation be built.

The problem with solar power is not that the energy density sucks, it's that the panels cost way too much.

Uh, if the energy density was higher you could get by with a single small panel.

I'd have a system that produces more than enough electricity for my needs in the winter (gas heat)

So again, when it comes to important matters, like not freezing to death, you choose an energy source with a much, much higher energy density.

Take a few other steps to reduce your energy consumption and you could have several hundred dollars a month more in disposable income. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

An advancing civilization requires increased energy consumption, energy supplies should be getting denser and cheaper not more diffuse. The only time US energy consumption declined was during the Great Depression. Solar is a cute feel good trick but is primarily a diversion from the main issue of securing our nation's access to energy.

39 posted on 09/13/2006 9:09:28 AM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: TKDietz
Once that gallon of gasoline produces it's energy the gasoline is gone. I don't know if it takes "1 meter" of silicon cell to produce the energy of gasoline or not, but those solar panels are going to continue working for years and years and even after a couple of decades they'll still be working even if they will be converting less sunshine into electricity than they were when they were first made. That gallon of gasoline will be long gone.

One could also argue that a system driven by the background radiation of the universe would provide power far longer than solar energy but like solar the stuff is rather diffuse and difficult to harness.

Folks start looking at the energy content of a kilo of uranium vs. a train full of coal. We have centuries worth of uranium if not hydrocarbons. If we could find a way to store fission energy conveniently such as nuke powered coal gassification or a nuke driven ethanol production process we could break free of the ay-rabs.

40 posted on 09/13/2006 9:17:50 AM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
I want siding to cover the south side of my house, but it has to function at -40 (C or F), and handle the basic depredations kids can exert on siding.

At this latitude, and with the way my house faces, that would work best.

Then I'd dedicate output to producing heat in winter and cooling in summer.

Not in the budget yet, though.

41 posted on 09/13/2006 9:25:23 AM PDT by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: gonzo
*** nanocrystals ... nanoscopic particles***

It has long been recognized that there is nothing about photo-electric power generation that could not be miniaturized; one possible alternative early on was the simple thermocouple [piezo-like] technology, which could be miniaturized to a 'chip' containing multiple photo-generators.

I have wondered what has happened to this type of research. I think the gentleman is correct: essentially it is a market-driven technology; with increasing costs of fossil fuels, and the stubborn cost of silicon cells, an alternate technology appears more attractive -- especially if it is CHEAPER.

Thanks for the ping. FReegards... IR

42 posted on 09/13/2006 9:54:34 AM PDT by Bob Ireland (The Democrat Party is a criminal enterprise)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 27 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
Which is to say you would have added power (a very small intermittent and expensive amount) but not capacity to the grid.

So what? You said, ""If Silicon cells were *FREE* they would NOT be a viable alternative for our energy needs." The thing is that most people at least aren't looking at solar energy as an alternative to all our energy needs, only part. If I could get a solar electric system set up at my house on the cheap and significantly reduce my electric bills, I'd be all for that, as would most people.

You still require that real power plants capable of on demand generation be built.

If some breakthrough comes along that makes home solar electric systems affordable it will still take years for that technology to proliferate. A lot of plants are already perfectly capable of demand generation already, and new plants will have to be built and old plants will have to be upgraded in the future anyway, so having to build or modify generating facilities isn't that big of a deal. A lot of the problem could be solved just by energy storage systems and getting creative in how we manage our existing electricity generating facilities. For instance, we have a lake house on a lake with a dam that generates electricity. Because of a boom in population density and hot and dry conditions in recent years, the lake is getting really shallow in the summer time as people try to beat the heat running their air conditioners. Even though our dock is set up such that it can handle a good deal of fluctuation in the water levels we've had to disconnect our dock from the permanent moorings on the creek bank and let it float farther out in the creek in the summers in recent years or it would have ended up laying on the hillside. If people could set up cheap solar electric systems on their homes in the area and reduce the amount of electricity they are drawing from the grid during the hot summer days, we wouldn't have the problem of the lake getting too shallow. Not only that, but as more people move into the area and energy needs grow, if enough were supplementing their grid power with solar power to cover most of their daytime needs in the summer, all we'd have to do is generate from the dam at night when the solar panels aren't getting any sun rather than during the day. We wouldn't have to build some new coal or natural gas fired power plant to keep up with growing demand for electricity.

Uh, if the energy density was higher you could get by with a single small panel.

Again, so what? If I could get a 160 watt panel for $800 or two 80 watt panels that together take up twice the space of one 160 watt panel, but I could get those two 80 watt panels for a total of $200, it would be a good deal. I'd be paying $1.25 per rated peak watt as opposed to $5.00 per watt. I could only produce half as much electricity with a roof full of those as I could with a roof full of the expensive 160 watt panels, but my up front costs would be considerably less, and I'd be able to pay off my initial investment a lot faster with the money I'd save on my electric bill and every bit of savings after that would just be an increase of disposable income for my family.

So again, when it comes to important matters, like not freezing to death, you choose an energy source with a much, much higher energy density.

Why is it that we have to pick one single energy source and rely solely on that? I'd use gas for heat because it is a lot more efficient than electricity when it comes to heating your home, and because that's what I already have and it would be stupid to spend the money to replace my gas furnace with less efficient. I'd keep my gas dryer too, and my gas water heater.

An advancing civilization requires increased energy consumption.

There has to be a point when energy consumption does not need to increase for societies to advance. Third world type countries are going to have to use a lot more energy to catch up with the big industrial nations, but our country already uses something like 26% of the energy consumed in the world even though we have less than 5% of the world's population. We waste an awful lot of the energy we consume too. You know, looking into solar power has been a learning experience for me. I had no idea how much energy I waste. You can find sites all over the web where people are chronicling their experiences with powering their homes with solar and/or wind power, and one thing you'll see in common with all of these people is that they realize that before going to solar and/or wind power they were wasting an enormous amount of energy. Those going off the grid really have to cut down on their energy consumption and those with grid-tie systems end up really cutting down on their electricity consumption too because they're trying to pay off the huge costs of their new systems. They insulate their homes better, turn of lights and other appliances when they aren't using them. They analyze their energy consumption and look for where they are wasting electricity. They replace all the incandescent light bulbs they can with compact fluorescent bulbs. They turn off lights they don't need on, disconnect all those appliances and wall warts and other things we have in our homes that draw power even when not being used. They learn to live with a little warmer temperatures in the summer and a little cooler temperatures in the winter, and they don't leave their heaters and air conditioners on all day when they are at work like so many of us do. They become watt misers and often end up cutting their energy consumption by half or more just doing things not so hard or expensive to do.

One thing I think would happen if a lot more people started using solar power or some other means of generating electricity at home is that collectively we would all start thinking a lot more about how much energy we waste and we would reduce our consumption. If you invest a lot of money to generate your own electricity you're probably going to be paying a lot more attention to how that power is getting used. Those who manufacture things that use electricity will see this and pay a lot more attention to making products that are energy efficient. New home builders would build much more energy efficient homes and homes that are not energy efficient would sell for a discount. In time we might actually reduce our per capita energy consumption, and be as productive or more productive than ever.
43 posted on 09/13/2006 12:01:45 PM PDT by TKDietz (")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235

Fine, but what's wrong with using solar power too if we can figure out a way to do it cheaply?


44 posted on 09/13/2006 12:05:32 PM PDT by TKDietz (")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 40 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
Solar is a cute feel good trick but is primarily a diversion from the main issue of securing our nation's access to energy.

Who says you can't do both?

45 posted on 09/13/2006 12:48:54 PM PDT by SuziQ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: SuziQ

Well, we definitely are going to do the feel good stuff, I'm not so sure about the later.


46 posted on 09/13/2006 1:25:19 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 45 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235

Seems to me like there are pushes for all kinds of alternative energies, including nuclear, which I think is the best solution for electricity generation.


47 posted on 09/13/2006 2:02:03 PM PDT by SuziQ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 46 | View Replies]

To: SuziQ
Seems to me like there are pushes for all kinds of alternative energies, including nuclear,

When is the last time we built a reactor in this country?

Now when is the last time the government subsidized solar and wind in this country?

48 posted on 09/13/2006 3:29:24 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Truth has become so rare and precious she is always attended to by a bodyguard of lies.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 47 | View Replies]

To: AdamSelene235
There is a move afoot to start up nuke plants in this country again. It may take 10 years to get the first one online, but the environmentalists, and 'No Nukes' crowd will have a much harder time, this time around, getting them squashed. There is much more of a desire to reduce our need for oil from the Middle East, and stop feeding the terrorist networks, which receive money from sympathetic members of the royal families of some of the oil producing nations. If they aren't getting all that money, they won't have so much extra to part with.

Why should the government SUBSIDIZE any of these technologies? If they are shown to be cost effective and marketable, they will attract investors on their own. Regarding the nuke plants, the government doesn't need to subsidize them, but it could sure help by reducing the chances of the plants being held up in frivilous lawsuits like they were in the late 70's and 80's.

49 posted on 09/13/2006 3:35:01 PM PDT by SuziQ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 48 | View Replies]

To: aculeus
Why has it been so difficult to make efficient, yet inexpensive solar cells that could compete with fossil fuels as sources of electricity?

Answer: Because the company that owns patents on the lion's share of the technology to produce the cells is...


50 posted on 09/13/2006 3:37:59 PM PDT by Bloody Sam Roberts (Winning shows strength. Winning without fighting shows brilliance.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-72 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson