Solar panels as inexpensive as paint?

Organic Photovoltaics: PlasmonicEnhanced Organic Photovoltaics:This would be nice, except this idea keeps surfacing every couple of years, and I’ve yet to see one actually become viable. – Anthony

“Organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.”

From the University of Buffalo

Most Americans want the U.S. to place more emphasis on developing solar power, recent polls suggest.

A major impediment, however, is the cost to manufacture, install and maintain solar panels. Simply put, most people and businesses cannot afford to place them on their rooftops.

Fortunately, that is changing because researchers such as Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, are helping develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than what’s available today.

One of the more promising efforts, which Gan is working on, involves the use of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials. These devices don’t match traditional solar cells in terms of energy production but they are less expensive and – because they are made (or processed) in liquid form – can be applied to a greater variety of surfaces.

Gan detailed the progress of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials in the May 7 edition of the journal Advanced Materials. Co-authors include Filbert J. Bartoli, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Lehigh University, and Zakya Kafafi of the National Science Foundation.

The paper, which included an image of a plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic device on the journal’s front page, is available at:

Currently, solar power is produced with either thick polycrystalline silicon wafers or thin-film solar cells made up of inorganic materials such as amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride. Both are expensive to manufacture, Gan said.

His research involves thin-film solar cells, too, but unlike what’s on the market he is using organic materials such as polymers and small molecules that are carbon-based and less expensive.

“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint,” Gan said.

The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said.

There are drawbacks to organic photovoltaic cells. They have to be thin due to their relatively poor electronic conductive properties. Because they are thin and, thus, without sufficient material to absorb light, it limits their optical absorption and leads to insufficient power conversion efficiency.

Their power conversion efficiency needs to be 10 percent or more to compete in the market, Gan said.

To achieve that benchmark, Gan and other researchers are incorporating metal nanoparticles and/or patterned plasmonic nanostructures into organic photovoltaic cells. Plasmons are electromagnetic waves and free electrons that can be used to oscillate back and forth across the interface of metals and semiconductors.

Recent material studies suggest they are succeeding, he said. Gan and the paper’s co-authors argue that, because of these breakthroughs, there should be a renewed focus on how nanomaterials and plasmonic strategies can create more efficient and affordable thin-film organic solar cells.

Gan is continuing his research by collaborating with several researchers at UB including: Alexander N. Cartwright, professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering and UB vice president for research and economic development; Mark T. Swihart, UB professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the university’s Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems; and Hao Zeng, associate professor of physics.

Gan is a member of UB’s electrical engineering optics and photonics research group, which includes Cartwright, professors Edward Furlani and Pao-Lo Liu, and Natalia Litchinitser, associate professor.

The group carries out research in nanphotonics, biophotonics, hybrid inorganic/organic materials and devices, nonlinear and fiber optics, metamaterials, nanoplasmonics, optofluidics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), biomedical microelectromechanical systems (BioMEMs), biosensing and quantum information processing.


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Does this mean we can dismantle the windmills?
What is that going to cost?
Will the PV paint cost less than coal power?

On the matters solar
Another X-class solar flare
two in one day, very rare.
see NASA’s LASCO2 image

To borrow something said of fusion power: Inexpensive solar power is the energy of the future and always will be.
Solar has its uses, and for some things it is perfect. I cannot see it ever replacing conventional energy sources for the bulk of our energy.


I’m sure they’ll make them with embryonic stems cells …


“leads to insufficient power conversion efficiency.”
Even less than “normal” cells?


Maybe it really is “inexpensive as paint.” But it depends on which paint they’re talking about. Go look at the pearls available from Kolor House – the paint for my street rod is around $5,300 per gallon. And no, I didn’t go out and buy a wildly expensive brew compared to everything else….

Bob Diaz

Assuming the cost is reasonable, the other issue is, How long will it last?

Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Gila Stein, at the University of Houston is also working on a $500,000 NSF grant. “Using current fabrication techniques, polymer solar cells have reached approximately 11% efficiencies int he lab and only about 2% in the field. Standard silicon solar cells, on the other hand, have topped 20% in real world installations.”
“Real world” includes azimuth tracking, optimum siting and maintenance during peak insolation times of the day. The “Parameter” magazine article continues…”Steins research in this field will focus on the solar cell’s active layers…the polymer film that receives the sunlight and produces the electrons, as well as the material that receives the electron (in this case a spherical carbon molecule known as fullerene)”
Clarification required….No photon is converted to an electron. A photon only excites some base material element to surrender an electron in a one-time, one-way molecular erosion process. Sorry, but this form of photovoltaics is a dead end technology for long term energy solutions. It can never recover the fossil fuel generated investment energy to be anything more than the 1.5 volt, 1.5 watt/sq ft, direct current battery charger that it would be….sans massive tax and rate payer subsidies.

Having researched solar cell systems for house I was once planning on building, I found that the solar cell costs do not comprise the major portion of an installation. The install costs are greater,
and the required inverter costs not that much less than the panels, especially if the more efficient
microinverters are used rather than a central inverter. There are also the costs if the roof requires replacement and the whole system has to be de-installed and then re-installed. And solar panels require land, lots and lots of acreage : to produce the same amount of output power as a typical
Gen 3 nuclear reactor, you’ll need about 80,000 acres packed full of thin film commercial solar panels. And you’ll need to back up that unreliable solar power (which cannot be produced 24/7)
with conventional generating capacity. And that costs appreciable amounts of money. Unreliable power requires additional expense because of its undesirable side effects. This is true for any unreliable power generator.

I’ve been wanting to add solar power to our place, but I haven’t found any affordable solutions yet, and I’m concerned about hail damaging them. I see alot of houses with large panels installed on the roof. There are some small panels available from Harbor Freight Tools for around $200, but the output is barely enough for one lightbulb. Alot of people in our area are installing small wind turbines. I don’t know how effective they are though.

With current silicon panels above a dollar watt, they are not very viable. If these new less efficient panels can hit two bits a watt – it’s all over – solar panels everywhere!


Infrastructure and Resiliency Programs
The City has set aside $294 million for resiliency investments to be detailed in a report issued by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency later this month…
“We’ll also take the first steps toward making the City more resilient to the impacts that we know climate change will bring.”…


The best solar panel technology, that will never be improved on, was developed 2-3 billion years ago by evolving life: plants, photosynthesis and the rubisco protein.


Some time ago, there were researchers from the University of Toronto that said they could produce Infrared photovoltaic cells. Those were suppose to revolutionize the market since there are much more infrared than visible light and also you could still use them during night time … well, we are still waiting for them.


“The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said”
Oh I understand now. But I thought we already almost there, aren’t we? Applying current photovoltaic panels is almost like sticking posters to your walls. Extremely expensive posters, that is…


From the article:
“… fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.”
Say that again?
From the article:
“The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said.”
So what they’re saying is “the cost of fabrication” is as cheap as you want to go. Hire someone as cheap as a painter or DIY. Notice that in order to compete against “conventional” solar you need 10% efficiency. What’s the “conventional” solar power efficiency? 12-18%
Keep dreaming or keep banging those rocks together

Jim Hodgen

So here’s the deal. If these printable solar cell researchers can actually come up with cartridges for the 3D printer that will allow people to print ‘power-boards’ that meet their needs, then they will be added incrementally to existing buildings.
Then there will be a need to store and re-use the energy… LED lighting does well on lower voltage DC and that retrofit might be achievable with home expertise and resources. Being able to have lighting off the grid is a good first step… once people can do it themselves it will happen. Requiring high-skill contractors and permission from the city to install, not going to be a major factor anytime soon if at all.
When human capital becomes the final hurdle, it will happen very fast.


Solar Power is the energy from the past (oil and coal) and it will be the energy of the future. If we can optimise the farming of this huge amount of energy to a fraction of what plants do and solve storing problems, we will have lots of problems solved. Fusion and solar energy are much more interesting than wind-power for instance. Considering that solar power is farmed by quantic interactions, the only way is to solve things in a quantic scale. Some teams are working hard and this is an example (see link) of a prototype that it’s already competitive with the best solar cells available. Considering that it uses graphene, cells can have tridimensional structure and can bend easily.

You just increase the engineering and building costs to duplicate the current paths and keep them working safely, efficiently and correctly. Then work within the lower power budget as well.

Organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.


Lots of names instead of explanations and an absence of numbers except perhaps on the next grant application form. I bet the words “climate change” will be found there too.
Best of luck with it though.

Jeff L

Lots of wiggle room in their language – mostly sounds like noise intended to keep funding coming their way for continued research.
Key quote for me :
“The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said.”
In other words – this isn’t cheap ….. and probably not cost competitive, even with current solar technology, let alone hydrocarbon based power.
I applaud their efforts though – if solar is going to work on a large scale & compete against hydrocarbons, it has to be much more cost competitive than it currently is & these researchers clearly recognize that hurdle that must be overcome & they are working to solve the problem.


You can make your own cells from tea and donuts. It isn’t that hard. Makes you wonder why they aren’t everywhere. 😉

The big issue no one has found a way around is weathering. Solar paint would weather very similar to other paint which mean output would drop year to year until the house was repainted. Not a practical idea in my opinion. Too expensive. A better idea is to turn windows into solar panels you can see out while still producing electricity. They would last long than solar paint and not be much more expensive to regular windows. Just my thoughts.

BTW….the “spherical carbon molecules known as fullerene” mentioned above, are named after R Buckminster Fuller, the single greatest human that i have ever heard in person. He spoke to a capacity crowd of several thousand at the Cullen Auditorium at U of H in the mid seventies. I attended with a group of senior engineering students. I was familiar with the geodesic dome and his mathematical patents, i was unprepared for the mind expanding two hour lecture that was to follow.
The stage was set with a podium and a pitcher of water. A bald, eighty year old man with coke bottle thick glasses and the shape of an egg, walked out to a standing obviation. He spoke for two hours, with no notes, an occasional sip of water and only one loss of his formidable train of thought. He covered our Universe from his recently announced carbon nano-spheres [called Bucky Balls] and nanotubes to the spectrum analysis of other galaxies. This was the most inspirational lecture of my lifetime, his biographies are near unbelievable.
Amazing that a few hours of inspiration can last a lifetime.

Luther Wu

“Organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint.”
Potentially, Willis Eschenbach could be POTUS (and me, too.)

Text for the initial link should be University at Buffalo, not University of Buffalo.

Wouldn’t it by definition of the process be no cheaper than three coats of paint?
You have to be able to get a potential difference out of the “solar cell” somewhere. I can’t think of any way except with two conductive layers with an insulator inbetween.

“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint,” Gan said.
The reference to paint does not include a price point [Oh, really??] but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said.

Make that three coats of very expensive paint…..


Luther Wu says:
May 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm
Potentially, Willis Eschenbach could be POTUS
If the head explosions that idea would generate in congress , the left wing media and certain cloistered halls of academia could be contained and released in a controlled manner it would generate enough energy to run the nation for several years , I`d vote for it 🙂


“A major impediment, however, is the cost to manufacture, install and maintain solar panels.”
Do not collect $200, do not pass Go, Anthony.
The only major impediment to solar power is that the sun only shines on your solar panels for half a day. No matter how cheap or efficient they are they can not generate power at night and they can not be used for base load power generation.
You have been living in CA too long. Next time you feel an urge to advocate for solar power, I suggest that you get inside out of the sun and drink some fluids.
REPLY: And the next time you feel the need to rip me a new one, I suggest that you
1. Note that is the press release wording, not mine.
2. Note that I walk the talk
Operators are standing by to take your apology.

We’ve got enough solar panels on the property here to function completely off-grid if we want, and we mostly do. But finding solar panels in a decent price range was the easy part. Finding suitable batteries at a decent price, and that could be charged during the day and then carry us through the night was the hard part.
Selling the excess power back to the power company is not an option. Because it’s not an even playing field. While they charge the standard retail rate for any power we use off the grid, they only pay wholesale, or below, for any power they buy back from us. So the only way we were able make it pencil out was to go completely off-grid; neither buying, or selling power.
Fortunately, my nephew is an aircraft mechanic for a regional airline. When they switched their entire fleet of aircraft over from nickel-cadmium batteries to lead-acid batteries, we were able to get 60 used, but completely serviceable, 24 volt NiCad Aircraft batteries just for hauling them off.
To sum it up: no matter how good the solar panels get, they still only work when the sun’s shining. Without a practical way to store power for use at night we’d still be at the mercy of the power company.

I have always wondered why solar isn’t paired with a battery, such that the solar recharges the battery from sunrise until about 2 pm, and then combined the solar cell & the battery are used together to provide electricity in the peak hours of a summer demand cycle.

Hey Jack Barnes, In fact my own system produces enough power during the day to both run the house, and charge a large rack of batteries that carries us through the night. The inverters, and charge controllers are made by a company called Xantrex. It’s a fully integrated system that works together to keep every thing running smoothly.
Here’s one of three large solar arrays that make it work. comment image Note that it does double duty as an equipment shade, or carport.

Who knew that solar paint researchers could also do stand up comedy…
From the Daily Mail in the UK comes this gem of a quote:

‘By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we’ve made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment.’
He added: ‘The goal is to prepare a solar paint that has long shelf life.‘In our laboratories we have tested the performance for a few days to a week, and we find it stable as long as it is stored in the dark.


They are not going to ruin their big government business model of delivering energy to the people with a eyedropper.. Solar tech is to easy to implement on a wide scale.. The breakthrough would be a breakdown on a very important lever of control.. He who has the power, has the power.. Giving it away for trivial political ideals is so far beyond stupid its not even worth talking about..
Remember its the journey that counts in politics, not the destination..
Seriously.. Why would the government invest in cutting themselves out of the loop?
When the breakthrough comes it will be engineered to be dangerous, poisonous or volatile to make double sure their monopoly stays firmly in their hands..
Anything else is a pipe dream..

Peter Crawford

Paint is expensive. If you want a pot of Prince Charles’s ‘Duchy Original Heritage Classic’ in the authentic ‘Grizzly Wife’ colour or possibly the less venerable but very popular ‘Winter Gerbil’ it will set you back about 8 million pounds. He needs the profits so he can tour the UK in his Bentley or Porsche 911 telling the rest of us how to be planet savers like him.


I work with researchers and they are always blown away that one could do something smaller, easier, cheaper and make a positive contribution, way before one of their pie in the sky ideas is practical for a market. they really really do not grasp that what they develop to work in isolation to achieve a principal, is very hard to put into the real world in practice for thousands of reasons and even those we never know about, given that reality is kind of complicated outside the isolationists lab (and they foolishly dont get that knowing parts dont give you understanding or a model of the whole).
unless solar is a way to bring the cost down of a building element, by making it active rather than passive, its really equivalent to a battery whose output is metered by sun. (unless you get a lot more energy out than it took to make it).
There are other reasons not to bother with solar…
like its indefensible and way too slow to repair / cant be repaired
people worry about wackos and crazies getting to a nuclear plant, or a gas generator.
how you stop the same from wrecking solar plant capacity?
Sadly…. the government subsidies prevent people from looking in other places for things
i have come up with stuff, like many engineers, but nothing you can do with it
pretty simple stuff actually. nothing earth shattering or glitzy like solar cells
but just another way to generate in the right situations, which ultimately is not going to replace oil, coal, gas, nuclear, which technically can generate anywhere being transportable.
solar has its place, but so far i have seen nothing in 30 years that really works and is worth it, but in those places where its really suited… its not a general solution… unless its energy generation is a way to bring down the cost of a building material.
oh… i do have ways that buildings can generate some electricity…. looks good, not crappy.
easy to maintain… but its not going to do more than reduce costs… and its only worth it since it looks good not ill…

Hey Artfldgr,
I have no idea where you’re getting your information from. But my own solar system works great. I live 100% off grid. And I never see a power bill. As for being slow to repair, there’s never anything to fix. The only moving parts in the entire system are some little computer cooling fans in the inverters. And if they were to fail the system would simply sense an over-temp, and go into low power mode until I go out a change out the cooling fan. (A $12.00 part that take 10 minutes to unplug, and change) Our system has been operational now for a little over five years, and has never had a problem. Projected life expectancy of the system before major repair is required is 30 years. In other words, since I am 59 years old, I stand a good very chance of never paying another power bill as long as I live. Although I do have to spend about an hour twice a year servicing the batteries
Oh, by the way. There were no Government subsidies in this installation. I didn’t ask Uncle Sam for a gawdamn thing. The only cost cutting measures used were in taking my own sweet time, and shopping around for two years for the best buy I could find on the panels and inverters I used, and the fact that I fabricated the framework the panels are mounted on from recycled steel, and then did the entire installation myself.
To put that into perspective, I am a little over $22,000 out of pocket for a single family, stand alone solar system that the lowest contractor bid said would cost at least $120,000 installed.

What’s really needed is a roofing surface that changes from low albedo below 25C to high albedo above 25C. Reducing both heating and cooling costs. With the added benefit of surface warming colder climates and surface cooling hotter climates.

But finding solar panels in a decent price range was the easy part.

Hooray for subsidies.

J Solters

Every now and then this site goes whacko-jacko with some hair-brained scheme akin to cold fusion or something. Who’s responsible for this diversion into space cadet quackery? Could it be the owner and minions are secret flying saucer pilot wannabees with both hands on the joystick? Or just injecting needed levity into the AGW tedium?

Denise, I love your carport usage of the cell panels. I was pondering my example from a “commercial” install. ie Megawatt size. However, your example is a full time shift for completely going off grid which is more interesting from my own personal standpoint. Thank You for sharing.
How many KW in total installed capacity do you need for a full cycle system? I am pondering a small efficient cabin on a lake, with a weekend turn key capacity. (solar, battery, emergency small Propane gen set).

William McClenney

There are three things you need to comprehend about solar and wind power:
storage, storage and storage.


@Philip Bradley
I have something that would work, but its not fancy like paint that changes automatically
I have even model tested it… its been available for years, yet no one has figured out the cost/savings advantage… (its GREAT for those one story sprawling buildings with black roof)
but its not fancy high tech

Hi William McClenney,
Most companies consider that an average household can get by on a 1KW system. But to be more realistic, don’t be surprised if you don’t start breaking even, and thumbing your nose at the power company, until your system is up to about 5KW. As it’s been said already in this thread, solar panels only work when the sun is shining. So you’ve got to be able to produce enough power during the day to both run the house all day, and charge a good sized battery system that can get you through the night.
Cheers, Dennis


There is a winning name in solar but 99.9 percent of the population can’t name it and the DOE motto is We Don’t Pick Winners. I really can’t think of an industry sector reported on worse than this one. Oh well, the one winner will turn heads after the smart money takes most of the gains.

F. Ross

“Fortunately, that is changing because researchers such as Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, are helping develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than what’s available today.”

This sounds a lot like the old canard that goes something like ” .. dirt cheap, sustained nuclear fusion power is only about 15 years away.”
Every year it’s only 15 years away.


Am not seeing an indication that the proposed surfaces that are as cheap as paint, will do the job of paint. Do you have to paint, then apply a photovoltaic surface, doubling the cost? When the combination stops doing the job of paint, do you have to scrape off both surfaces? Can you do a touch-up and restore both surfaces, or would such a touch up require the skill of a restoration archivist?


” organic materials such as polymers and small molecules that are carbon-based and less expensive”
I wonder how well such material will survive exposure to our southwest desert sunshine.

I just had the best idea. Since the new solar technology is organically based (made from evil carbon molecules), when the solar system doesn’t work as promised, they could burn it as clean coal! Uhm wait, it probably has a lot of toxic elements in it, so strike that thought.


Solar panels are useful, if cheap enough, unlikely for most with all the ancillary electricals required, for the end user, to take some load off the grid. That would be nice. But, it will only be a local and never substantial effect.
And, if they could only figure out how to legislate that the Sun stay up 24/7. Probably won’t happen.

William McClenney

“Dennis Cox says:
May 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm”
So it was about 93 here today. I left my little window A/C running all day, it’s still on now. I ran the clothes washer, dryer and dishwasher this evening. I have 4 deep-cycle 40-thin-lead/acid plate (deep cycle, large surface area, fast charging) batteries tied into a portable/switchable 4kw solar system and inverter, almost 5kw if the wind is blowing and my 800w wind jennie is spinning, and the batteries went flat about 1.5 hours after I got home. Switched to the grid ever since.
I rent. All of my stuff is modular and relatively portable. Meaning it is all more expensive than if I installed it on a place the bank mostly owns.
Because it does not make sense to “install” my storage subsystems in anything other than Pelican-case style portable/modular units, my costs are that much higher. Including optional hi-efficiency capacitance arrays (to catch whatever the batteries cannot absorb quick-smart), hi-wattage inverters etc., the overhead can, and has been, quite substantial. And insufficient.
The truth is I am just not sure I can afford the storage to afford a modern electrical lifestyle for a single person. With a laptop too.
Just imagine the batteries necessary for even half the US households to achieve electrical parity!
storage, storage, storage…….