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Printing on Aluminum Boosts Solar Efficiencies May 13, 2010

Posted by OldGuy in solar.
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Nanosolar, a San Jose (CA) energy company, has opened an automated facility for manufacturing an innovative new process for cheaper solar panels.  The solar panels are made by printing a semiconductor material called CIGS on aluminum foil.

Nanosolar located the factory in Luckenwalde near Berlin, Germany, in part because German government incentives for the purchase of solar cells has created a large market for solar panels.  The panel factory is automated to sustain a production rate of one panel every ten seconds, or an annual capacity of 640MW when operated 24×7.

It’s not that the cells are that much more efficient than others.  On average, the company’s solar panels convert just 11 percent of that energy into electricity, about the same as most good quality cells, and a little less than high-end cells, which have demonstrated up to 16% efficiency.

What makes Nanosolar’s technology unique is the producability improvements of the panels, and the transmission increases in the panels.  By using large aluminum-foil sheets to collect electrons from each panel, Nanosolar decreases the amount of wiring per panel and has increases the current its panels can generate, up to 160 watts each, compared to 70 watts for standard panels.

But what matters most to consumers is that making panels this way eases installation and lowers production and operations cost.  Based on DoE’s life cycle amortized cost methods,  using these in sunny locations could produce electricity at less than six cents per kilowatt hour (compared to 12 cents for conventional panels), almost as low as coal-fired generation plants.

Nanosolar started in a small laboratory in 2002.  It strives to be a “green” company both in its products and its practices.  It also strives to maintain a  small company feel.  For example, “almost everyone eats lunch in the office café, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Nanosolar people from all different departments, executives and operators alike.”

sources: Technology Review, NanoSolar website

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