Nanosolar Takes Solar Power to the Next Level

A relatively new startup called Nanosolar has announced that they have $4 billion in contracts to sell their solar panels that produce $1 per watt. That is a low enough price point to take on those awful fossil fuels.

The key to their success is how they propose electric utilities make use of their technology. You can read all about it in Wired.

Two big announcements marked its coming out party: The company has $4 billion in contracts and can make money selling its products for $1 per watt of a panel’s capacity. That’s cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels in markets across the world.

Specifically, the company’s management thinks it can help utilities avoid the difficulties of getting big coal and nuclear power plants built by offering the option to build small solar farms they can set up close to cities.

“Cost-efficient solar panels such as ours can be deployed in 2- to 20-megawatt municipal solar power plants that feed peak power directly into the local distribution without requiring the expense of transmission and with a plant deployment time as short as six months,” said Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen in an e-mail to Wired.com. “Coal or nuclear can’t do that, can’t do it as cost efficient and can’t do it as rapidly deployable.”

Thin-film solar has been a major focus of U.S. alternative energy research and development efforts since the early 1980s because it was seen as a true “breakthrough” solar technology. Silicon cells are easy to manufacture, dependable and efficient, but some researchers viewed them as inherently limited. As they are currently produced, they require a lot more silicon than thin-film solar cells. They might reach efficiency levels of over 40 percent, but they’d never compete with fossil fuel energy sources, even with carbon taxes.

Thin-film solar was different. On the one hand, it was definitely harder to make efficient cells. However, it allowed researchers to dream of printing semiconducting chemicals onto a metal sheet and having it convert photons into electricity. Thin-film cells seemed like they’d be perfect for the applications researchers imagined like “solar shingles” for building-integrated solar installations.