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Printable PV Cells: Making Solar Power More Affordable

Traditional photovoltaic modules have experienced a drastic cost decrease since the year 2000, greatly increasing the financial attractiveness of the technology. However, the installed price of PV systems remains high for plenty of households.

Large-scale solar power developers can achieve costs as low as $1500 per kilowatt thanks to economies of scale, but homeowners can expect to pay from $3000 to $4000 for each kilowatt of installed capacity.

However, with printed solar cells, costs could drop to just a fraction of their current value. The payback period of traditional rooftop PV systemsis around five years assuming the best possible conditions, but printed solar cells could reduce this to just a few months. This is still an experimental technology, but it offers great potential.
One of the great promises of this new generation of solar cells is that, since they can be printed, they can be adapted to a wide range of shapes and materials. For example, printable solar power technology would allow the creation of windows which can function as solar modules without losing their transparency. It would also be possible to print these cells on a plastic substrate, creating a portable and flexible solar power solution. If complemented with an adhesive, printed solar cells can even be turned into stickers.

Printed solar technology is also lightweight, which would greatly simplify installation while reducing shipping costs. There will be plenty of new and innovative ways to power electric devices once this technology is marketed.

Another great feature of printed solar cells is their wide variety in terms of available colors and degrees of transparency, which opens the possibility of decorative solar cells. These cells would have aesthetic and architectural applications, in addition to their main goal of providing energy. Solar power systems would no longer be limited to the black and blue tones of traditional silicon and thin-film arrays.

Plenty of research on printed and portable solar cells is going on in the University of Calgary, in Canada. Curiously, many of the compounds being used for this research are organic, and they are byproducts of oil and gas processing, an industry which is frequently considered a direct competitor of solar power.

Printable solar cells are possible due to the fact that these organic compounds are soluble, while also having properties of semiconductors. The first working prototype of a printed and portable solar cell is still five to ten years away, but the technology promises to revolutionize the solar power industry.

This research has been possible thanks to the use of a portable Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer (NMRS), a device with the size of a toaster which was also developed in Calgary. This high-tech device allows analysis of molecular composition to be carried out in just 90 seconds. Traditional spectrometers tend to have the size of a car and are much slower than the NMRS.

Solar power is a constantly evolving technology, and one from which any homeowner with the adequate site conditions can benefit. You can talk to our solar experts today if you wish to learn more about the technology or quote a residential PV system.

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