Monday, January 28, 2008

New approach may power future of solar

From the Los Angeles Times:
'Thin film' formula is less costly but must boost its energy output to compete with traditional silicon.

High energy prices are fueling a sleek new kind of solar technology that could someday set skyscrapers and high-rise apartment windows quietly buzzing with renewable power.

The emerging technology uses so-called thin films mounted on glass windows and other surfaces to harness the sun's rays.

It's more attractive and cheaper than the bulkier conventional solar cells made from polycrystalline silicon. Plus, the silicon supply has tightened and prices have risen as solar energy has taken off.

Current thin film surfaces generate less power in the same area than polysilicon modules, but they use much less polysilicon than conventional cells, making them attractive to some of the world's top solar panel makers.

"Silicon is in short supply. This is a very critical issue, so at the moment we are focusing on thin film investment," said Tatsuo Saga, deputy general manager of Japan's Sharp Corp. solar systems, an industry leader.

Thin film is cheaper to produce, more durable and less unsightly than bulky solar panels, which are often called eyesores. The transparent sheets can serve as facades for skyscrapers and house roofs, where they turn sunshine into energy.

"One big advantage of the thin film products is that they don't have to use too many raw materials and they are much cheaper than silicon solar wafers," said Robin Cheng, an analyst at UBS Securities....MORE
HT: the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog.