(Image Credit: NREL)
Recent breakthroughs in manufacturing processes and some new approaches to development are driving the cost per watt of solar down far faster than anyone imagined. The cost per watt is a general measure of just how expensive a technology is when it comes to electricity production. Solar has been prohibitively expensive for the most part, but recent innovations may change all of that.
Less Waste = Less Cost
Traditionally, solar panels are made using silicon wafers that have to be manufactured en mass and cut up into the smaller pieces that make up a complete panel. This process tends to waste a great deal of the expensive silicon and adds a tremendous cost to the entire system. Ampulse Corporation, in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has built a new process that skips the cutting stage and goes straight to forming high-quality silicon.
The process involves growing the silicon onto foil mold that allows the silicon to grow as thick or thin as is needed. They claim to have the silicon as thin as 10 microns – 200 microns has been the threshold as of late.
Less = More
(Image Credit: Cheap Solar)
Twin Creek Technologies has a similar innovation with thinner wafers. While not able to reach the 10 micron level, there 20 micron thick wafers are incredibly flexible. The cost per watt is as low as 50 cents ($.50 USD) per watt.
The thinner sheets mean that less wafer per panel component is needed and therefore costs much less per wafer used. The bonus of the flexibility is huge and cannot be understated. The ability to shape a solar panel introduces all kinds of interesting and useful applications and improves the durability.
Cost of Panels vs Cost of System
With the new technology hitting the scene, it’s easy to get overly-excited. The cost of solar panels is only a small part of a complete solar system. For example, at a high-level, the various components of a complete solar system includes:
- Solar Panels
- Mounting Brackets
- Charge Controller
The reduced cost of the panels themselves is still wonderful news and should definitely get the PV crowd excited. This is one more step in the right direction. As the cost for batteries comes down – the most expensive part of the system – we are going to see more communities, companies, and individuals reach for PV as their go-to sustainable energy source.