Printed solar panels to make solar power cheap

The costs of solar panels have declined considerably in recent years, thanks to innovations in the field. However, even now the costs can be an obstacle for a lot of people. To lower the production costs even more, as well as speed up the manufacturing process, researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, are working on printed solar panels, using electronic inks.

The university is one of only three sites in the world that are testing printed solar. The material is made by printing electronic ink onto paper thin, clear laminated sheets of plastic, using conventional printing presses, a technique which the team pioneered.

The electronic inks are synthesised at scale using non-toxic carbon-based materials. The components are then used directly or further processed into water-based inks and paints.

Currently, the production costs of the technology are only AUD 10 (EUR 6.70, USD 7.90) per square metre (10.8 square feet).

The researchers are in the final testing phase of the solar cells, having unveiled their first printed solar demonstration site in May. The solar panels are monitored how they function under different real-world conditions. Unlike traditional PV panels, the technology maintained a more constant power flow in low-light and cloud cover, meaning that users don’t experience dips in productivity. The material is even so sensitive that they can produce small quantities of energy from moonlight.

The plastic film on which the panels are printed can be put on a roll for easier transportation. On site, it is rolled out and can be tethered to roofs and walls. The material is light enough to be fastened with Velcro strips.

Because it is light and can be printed quickly it is also ideal for disaster relief and recovery applications supporting displaced people and powering temporary emergency bases. It could even be used on sails for yachts or on ship decks.

Photos: University of Newcastle