Searching for New Ways of Lowering the Cost of Solar Energy Technology
What would it take to lower the cost of solar energy? Do we need more subsidies to support its economic backbone? Is it required for us to develop some sort of new theory that would enable us to use sunlight using a whole new radical method? Would there be a necessity for us to actually go to the extreme and abandon our current production method in search of completely new and revolutionary ways of manufacturing cost-effective solar cells?
In the quest to find the ultimate solution that would economically boost solar cells, researchers and scientists have inevitably stumbled upon a few innovative (albeit simple and sometimes mundane) ideas that can help us achieve this goal. While most of these are yet to be fully implemented or made into reality, the first few steps have already been taken to make these new methods practically feasible.
Change the Way Solar Cells are Made
One method that can lower down the cost of solar cells quite easily is by simply changing the method of production. Up to now, aside from the economic value of silicon itself, the method of collecting and purifying this semiconductor element has been one of the points that affect the cost of solar cells. Researchers at the Oregon State University, in their research to make solar energy more cost effective, have suggested a rather radical way of cheaply producing solar cells: by printing them using an inkjet printer. That’s right, with the use of an alternative semiconductor material called “CIGS” (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) to print the solar cells, they plan to not only make the production method easier, but to overall make solar cells cheaper and a lot less wasteful to produce.
Search for Other Materials for Solar Cell Production
Another straightforward and perhaps mundane method of making solar cells more cost effective is by changing the material needed to fabricate the solar cell. The previously mentioned CIGS is one such example, but there are two other more promising materials that would definitively lower down solar energy technology costs should they be finally available. The first one is with the use of carbon nanotubes, an almost miracle material that is expected to increase sunlight absorption efficiency of a solar cell by almost 10%. The newer one, graphene, is the flat form of carbon nanotube (a one-atom thick sheet of carbon), and is the key that could make all free surfaces (building walls for example) essentially solar arrays.
Switch to Solar Thermal Energy
Of course, if we are to find the easiest way in terms of development and implementation, there is nothing simpler than using solar thermal energy instead of solar PV energy. As what we have discussed before, solar PV energy further loses efficiency when heat is involved. Solar thermal energy however, actually collects that heat to power a steam generator. No fabrication of panels is needed, as the heliostats are just essentially mirrors, and the only thing that needs to be developed is the positioning system of the array as the amount of sunlight changes throughout the day. This isn’t what we could really call an improvement however, and there is also the lingering problem that this technology cannot be reproduced in small scale.
One important thing that we need to note about these methods is the reminder that we are actually inching bit by bit to make solar energy universally available. It’s not really question anymore of whether solar energy would really catch on or not, as it is simply a matter of how long would the development take place. We might still have to hold in doubt the question of getting the technology developed in time however (before severe environmental problems take place).
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