Tag Archives: Solar Cells

The Rise and Fall (and possible resurrection) of Thin-Film Solar Technology

Solar powered calculator

A tiny strip of thin film powers this calculator.

Thin-film solar technology has been around for quite some time and most of us have benefited from it’s use. Thin-film is most commonly used to power small hand-held calculators and watches and is created by depositing a number of thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a solar wafer. More recently, thin-film PV has become available in larger module form and is being used for building integrated installations (like this) and vehicle charging systems. Thin-film PV has grown in popularity due to its sleek look and light weight, which reduces the cost of installation and allows solar installations in areas not traditionally suited for large solar panels.

  • From 2004 to 2009 shipments of thin-film PV grew from 68 MW to 2 GW.
  • The market share for thin-film decreased to 11% in 2011. Down from 18% in 2009.
  • Thin-film solar panel sales reached $4.53 billion in 2010 but are expected to drop to $2.9 billion in 2012.

This decline in thin-film solar panel sales is due in part to the dramatic price drops in crystalline PV technology (the main alternative to thin film) the past few years. The price advantage thin-film panels held over crystalline technology is no longer relevant and the fact the crystalline PV panels are generally more efficient have given them the recent edge over thin-film technology.

First Solar – Headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. They posted their second-ever loss in Q1 2012 and they also recently closed down their Germany factory and fired 30% of their workforce. First Solar anticipates producing 1500 to 1800 megawatts this year. (Green Tech Media)

Nanosolar – Headquartered in San Jose, California. This company has an ink-based solar technology that won the Innovation of the Year Award from Popular Science in 2007. They have recently secured funding to pursue the development of large scale solar systems that will cost no more per watt than conventional electricity and they have passed critical milestones to meet that goal by 2015 – a promising report. (Clean Technica)
 

Solar manufacturers had a tough time staying afloat in 2011. Chinese solar companies were accused of dumping solar panels in the U.S. at lower prices than the cost of manufacturing and in turn forced many manufacturers to file for bankruptcy or close down plants/cut their workforce. The most newsworthy of this bunch was Solyndra but other manufacturers closed down as well, including Evergreen Solar, Energy Conversion Devices, and SpectraWatt.

This does not bode well, especially for thin-film manufacturers, who are struggling to keep up with price drops and efficiency increases. However, all is not lost. According to GTM Research:

” Venture capital investment into thin film in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 combined to reach nearly $300 million. Solar Frontier continues to ramp up its GW-scale CIGS facility. Tokyo Electron bought Oerlikon Solar for $275 million, affirming long-term faith in the thin-film silicon manufacturing space. With CdTe, GE continues to invest heavily in Primestar, and First Solar still intends to open new capacity in Vietnam and Mesa, Arizona.”

It seems that if a handful of thin-film manufacturers can weather the current storm then they can hopefully restore some life to the industry by continuing to create innovation solar panels that push the limits of size, weight, cost, and efficiency.

Additional Resources:

Forbes “First Solar Struggles Amid Decline of Thin-Film Solar Market”
GreenTech Solar “Nanosolar Scores $20M to Keep Its CIGS PV Dream Alive”
GTM Research ” Thin Film 2012-2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival”
How Stuff Works “Production of Thin-Film Solar Cells”
NREL “Thin Film CIGS and CdTe Photovoltaic Technologies”
Wikipedia  “Thin Film Solar Cell”
Uni-Solar Thin Film residential installation

5.6 KW Uni-Solar system in Heillbronn, Germany (Photo Courtesy of Rheinzink GmbH & Co.)

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Filed under Alternative Fuel, Environment, Manufacturing, Renewable Energy, Solar

In Case You Missed It: Vol. 3

  1. This past week our office discovered the brilliance of StumbleUpon. Among the first things we “stumbled” upon were some very interesting stories about the future of the solar industry. One thing that kept popping up was the idea that solar can (and hopefully will) power the Earth. This blog highlights some more of the more ambitious and jaw dropping solar ideas – click through to read about the desert and deep space.
  2. Staying with the future of solar theme, we found an article today summarizing a report out of the University of Texas where Xiaoyang Zhu found a way to “increase the efficiency of solar cells to 66 percent.” Right now, cells in production are between 12-20% efficiency.
  3. Ford has begun manufacturing the Ford Focus Electric which boasts 100 mpg equivalency and a revolutionary charging systems that “should be able to fully recharge in three to four hours – half the time of Nissan Leaf.” The Focus Electric will be available for order in California and New York next year. This new EV may not be much of an improvment on the cars already on the market but shows that large car manufacturers are dedicated to implementing new technologies and improving on the electric vehicle.
  4. More Military News – “The U.S. Navy is moving forward with plans to create a ‘Green Strike Force’ by purchasing 450,000 gallons of drop-in biofuel to be used on jets and vessels.” Read more here.
  5. And finally we leave you with an awesome video from Ice Cube and Pacific Standard Time. Ice Cube studied architectural drafting before he started his career as a rap artist and in this short film he explores Los Angeles and highlights Eames Architecture – pioneers in green building.

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Filed under Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Solar

K3 Wind and Solar Charger

This blog post features a new product we have been messing around with at the office for the past few weeks. I will give you a quick review of our experience with the K3 Wind and Solar Portable Device Charger.

The K3 Charger sun-bathing

The first thing I noticed was the K3 is very easy to operate; just set it out in the sun during the day and let the elements do all the work. When you need a charge on your device and do not have your wall charger with you or you are away from an outlet you simply pull the cord out of the built-in storage area, then plug into the USB port on the charger, finally plug in the correct tip to your phone and watch as your device charges up (according to the instructions you are supposed to give it a full charge from the wall first).
According the the K3 website, the charger is “ideal for mobile phones, iPods/mp3 players, iPhone, smartphones/PDAs, portable gaming devices, GPS units, digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, and more.” I intend to use mine mostly as a supplemental charge for my cell phone.
The design of the K3 allows you to prop it in many different posistions to take advantage of the the angle of the sun. I also found a good way to put the K3 in the back window of my car. I drive with the windows down most of the time so the wind turbine can work on my commute.

Propped up to take advantage of the sun-angle.

One negative thing that I accidentally found out  was when I made the mistake of falling asleep with my phone plugged in to the charger and woke up to a dead battery in th K3. This made me use the wall charger once again to refill the K3, thus eliminating the benefits of using the sun to power my cell phone. I also figured out that if I want a good charge from the K3, it needs to be fully charged from the sun, wind, or wall before plugging it into your device. I tried to charge my phone with a half full battery in the K3 and it didn’t last very long.

The K3 Charging a Phone.

Overall, I recommend the K3 Charger as a good, quality, portable mobile device charger. I can’t wait to take it with me on my next camping trip – I’ll no longer have to worry about conserving my cell phone battery!
Amazon page featuring the K3.

Positives: Durable, Wind AND Solar, USB port and multiple tip options, LED lights show battery life, Looks cool(there is also a black color option), Unique
Negatives: A little bulky, takes more time to charge than expected, relatively short phone charging time.
Ideal Uses: Camping, car travel, take it to work for that “mid-day boost,” backpacking, etc…

Two color options for the charger.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Cell Phone, Cell Phone Battery, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, Outdoor Adventure, Parks, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

When it Comes to Solar, We Now Have Choices

Golden Brown, Tile Red, Army Green, Turkish Blue, Stone Elegance, and True Steel… are these choices for your kitchen tile remodel or the latest options you have when producing solar energy?

One of the many perks of working in the renewable energy industry is that we are exposed to all sorts of new technology, like these awesome looking colored solar cells.

Clockwise from upper left: Golden Brown, Tile Red, Army Green, and Turkish Blue

As most of you know, our main product offering is the PV Solar Shutter – an interior plantation shutter that we outfit with PV solar cells in order to produce renewable energy (if you don’t know, now you know).

We have shown our shutter to many consumers and industry professionals and out of all the questions we hear, these two stand out: “how do those shiny blue solar cells look through the window?” and “Won’t these be an eyesore to people walking by the house?”

In order to put the consumers mind at ease we started looking at the Color Solar Cell or C-Cell from Lof Solar. They offer many different color options while still maintaining a high efficiency rating. The initial cells we received were rated between 14.3% – 15.7% efficiency. Lof states that their “colorized solar cells do not hamper conversion efficiency, and its design can be combined with exterior hues of buildings and houses, to enhance color coordination.”

This is exactly what we wanted to offer as an option for our PV Solar Shutter so consumers can match the color of their Solar Shutter with the exterior colors of their building. Until now, silicon solar cells are deep blue because it boasts the highest efficiency and is the most economical, but these new C-Cells do not hurt the conversion efficiency and the price is getting very close to being competitive with similar deep blue cells.

The Tile Red cells installed in some mahogany red shutter louvers

The main thing I’ve learned is that new solar cell technology is rolled out nearly everyday…just today I found a release stating that SunPower Corporation boasts cells that can achieve efficiency of 20% or more. This sets the world record for highest efficiency for commercially available solar cells.

Anyways, let us know if you stumble upon any other cool or interesting renewable energy news and happy power production!

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Filed under Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, Renewable Energy, Solar, Supply Chain Management, Weatherization, Window Coverings

Introducing Plug ‘N Save’s Discussion Forum

Do you like to express your opinion via the internet? Do you want to be involved in conversations discussing the important issues affecting the state of renewable energy? Do you want to have a place to ask your questions? Well then it is my pleasure to introduce to you the Plug ‘N Save Discussion Forum!

Join the discussion by visiting our Home page and clicking the Forum button on the top menu bar or through the link below. We currently have two discussion topics up, one about how buying responsibly can lead to a more sustainable life and the other about the future of renewable energy industries after the end of government stimulus. Voice your thoughts or start a new topic!

http://plugnsaveenergyproducts.com/forums/forum/general-topics/

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Free Trade, Green Technology, Innovation, Philanthropy, Recycled Materials, Renewable Energy, Responsible Materials, Solar, Supply Chain Management, Surfing, Sustainable Businiess, Tax Incentives, Uncategorized, Weatherization, Window Coverings