Solar panels have never been overly cheap. To power our house with a solar setup I priced recently at about US$25,000 (before any subsidies). Even just enough power for my notebook and low wattage lights/accessories in my office would have cost around the $2,000 mark to have a reliable system – and the bulk of that cost is in panels.
For the short term, we’ve opted to offset and gain electricity through renewable resources via our provider. But it’s not the same; I yearn for the independence, that hands-on sort of feeling that “creating” your own electricity can bring.
If we’re going to get serious about switching to off-grid energy, the price will need to come down a fair bit… but maybe that day isn’t so far away.
Australian researchers have developed processes that could cut the costs of producing monocrystalline solar panels by over 60%! The process is called ‘sliver technology’.
The primary component of a solar panel is silicon. While silicon is abundant in the environment; the processing of it for solar applications is very expensive. So the less silicon needed, the cheaper a monocrystalline panel can be, and for that matter the less of an impact on the environment in obtaining that silicon.
Sliver technology takes a standard solar cell, which is around about 1 millimetre thick, and then cuts it into very thin slices of 120 micrometres thickness; so that’s nearly 90% less silicon.
The other great aspect is these thin cells aren’t any less capable of converting solar energy into electricity; in fact, with a conversion rate of around 20%, they are more efficient than any other thin film solar cell currently on the market.
These panels first went into pre-production in 2004 and I believe they were meant to be in full scale production by the end of this year. A visit to the Sliver web site doesn’t seem to indicate that this is the case as yet (only 10 watt panels available), but it’s great news regardless – cheaper solar panels are on their way! And yes, the company does intend to distribute globally.
Read more about sliver technology for solar panels (PDF)
Visit the Sliver solar panel site