A guest post by John Goetz
Anthony has mentioned previously that he installed solar panels on his roof and, when he was a Trustee for Chico Unified School District, he spearheaded their first ever solar power installation at Little Chico Creek Elementary School.
For years I have wanted to do the same thing. That is, install solar on my home. I am motivated not by a desire to reduce my carbon footprint (which I view as nothing more than a size 10), but more by a desire to lessen my personal use of non-renewable energy sources.
Unlike Anthony, however, I’m cheap. Current technology in silicon solar cells costs about $9/watt. Based on where I live and the sizing of the system, I would be looking at a payback period of 20 years or more on a photovoltaic system, even after tax credits. I have not been able to rationalize the economics around a solution that won’t pay for itself within a few years. Up to this point the longest I have lived in any single home is four years, and I plan to retire and move further south in another five years. So I will never see the economic payback at my current residence. On top of that (pun intended), the shingles on my roof stand a good chance of needing replacement in the next 20 years. I can imagine the cost of re-roofing a home with panels on it will significantly add to the payback time.
The good news is that The silicon shortage that has kept solar electricity expensive is ending. This could mean prices will get down to $5 to $7 per watt in a few years, although that may increase demand enough to drive another shortage, thereby raising prices.
Even better news is an email I received from a company I have been watching for a while: Nanosolar. (Full disclosure – they are privately held and I am not, unfortunately, an investor.) Nanosolar has developed a proprietary ink that allows them to deposit their photovoltaic thin-film semiconductor (copper, indium, gallium, di-selenide, or CIGS) a highly conductive, low-cost foil substrate. This allows them to avoid the need to separately deposit an expensive bottom electrode layer as is required for a non-conductive glass substrate.
Much of the news around breakthrough alternative-energy technologies seems to be followed with statements like “hope to have manufacturing capability in 7 years.” However, the reason Nanosolar sent out their email was to provide a link to a video demonstrating their newly installed manufacturing tool. Here is their email:
Dear Nanosolar friend:
We wanted to let you know of a major milestone in solar energy technology we have now achieved: The solar industry’s first 1GW production tool.
Yes, that’s 1GW of capacity from a single production tool!
You can see it yourself in action in a video we have decided to release and share with you.
Most production tools in the solar industry tend to have 10-30MW in annual production capacity. So how is it possible to have a single tool with Gigawatt throughput?
This feat is fundamentally enabled through the proprietary nanoparticle ink we have invested so many years developing. It allows us to deliver efficient solar cells (presently up to more than 14%) that are simply printed.
Printing is a simple, fast, and robust coating process that in particular eliminates the need for expensive high-vacuum chambers as traditionally used to deposit thin films.
Our 1GW CIGS coater cost $1.65 million. At the 100 feet-per-minute speed shown in the video, that’s an astonishing two orders of magnitude more capital efficient than a high-vacuum process: a twenty times slower high-vacuum tool would have cost about ten times as much per tool.
There’s still a lot of hard work to be done for us to bring solar power everywhere. But at this time we wanted to share with you our excitement about transformational progress happening.
Thank you for your continued support of Nanosolar. While deployment of our product will focus over the next 12 months on installations with our wholesale customers (which includes the world’s largest utility), we are looking forward to making our products more broadly available to everyone in 2009.
CEO, Nanosolar Inc.
One of Nanosolar’s goals is to bring down the cost of solar power down to $1 per watt. At that level the technology becomes a very attractive option, particularly in new construction. If their company does indeed ramp manufacturing fast enough to serve a broader market in 2009, it should be very interesting to see how rapidly adoption occurs.
I, for one, will be standing in line to install their product.
Ditto that- I want solar on my business – Anthony