12-18-07 by dugan
I want a hybrid electric GT with a dark, glossy exterior wrap that’s actually a cheap solar-electric film. It would boost battery power and range whenever the sun shines. The concept is imagined, but products that could ultimately fulfill the fantasy are finally going commercial.
A San Jose company, Nanosolar, is the among the first of several commercially scaled solar-film makers to ship its thin-film photovoltaic for industrial use–in this case for a solar farm atop a former landfill in Luckenwalde, Germany. It’ll provide one megawatt of power, enough for 750 homes at California-style usage rates. The San Jose Mercury News and the New York Times have brief stories.
The photovoltaic film, claims its maker, will sell at a price less than it costs to build and operate a coal plant, It’s the holy grail of renewable energy. Coal, the dirtiest power source, is ubiquitous because it is also the cheapest. "Cheaper than coal" holds the possibility that fast-developing nations like India and China (never mind the U.S.) will accept curbs on industrial greenhouse gases.
It’s striking that Nanosolar’s announcement comes within a week of Shell Oil’s decision to abandon many of its solar projects.
From NYT on the cost of solar-film power:
"Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers."
"Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.
"’With a $1-per-watt panel,’he said, ‘it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.’
"According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said."
And that’s not counting the environmental and health costs of coal.
Solar film isn’t in contractors’ order books yet. Other companies have had to push back production schedules, and this is Nanosolar’s first cash sale after $100 milliion or more in development money. (Some of the company’s seed money came from the founders of Google. Google itself last month announced much larger investments to develop "cheaper than coal" renewables.)
Here’s an earlier story on the difficulties of commercial solar-film production, with descriptions of the various thin-film processes.
But snags aside, that semi-solar car is stuck in my brain. Consider this line from a rather optimistic August market analysis of the future of these thin film photovoltaics:"
"TFPV is also much lighter than conventional PV and can be more easily applied to curved and non-planar surfaces…"
There’s already a Miata conversion kit in Japan that in this photo appears to have solar panels pasted on the hood. it’s strictly a project for electric-car junkies, and the small panels aren’t enough to provide much boost. University techies also build ugly, impractical vehicles every year for solar-car races in North America and the Australian outback.
One day, though, we’ll have that semi-solar Grand Prix GT.