Problems in the Past With Solar Panels
Solar panels are a great way to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are spent generating electricity, but they have always had some problems. The high cost of solar panels prevents many consumers and companies from purchasing them. There are also some difficulties with applications. Since silicon solar cells need to rest on hard, flat surfaces, they usually take up a fair amount of space and have to be situated in the right position to generate their maximum power potential.
A New Kind of Solar Cell Panel
A Lowell, Massachusetts company named Konarka has developed solutions to these problems. Instead of using silicon solar power cells (the kind that you typically see generating solar energy on rooftops), Konarka has developed a product that they call Power Plastic, a flexible solar energy cell panel that can be used in ways silicon panels simply cannot be used.
Konarka: Solar Cells Printed Onto Film
Power Plastic is made on a retrofitted printer that literally prints photovoltaic substances onto thin sheets of plastic. It has the flexibility of photographic film.
This interesting video shows Konarka employees discussing the printing press that they use to create Power Plastic:
Flexible Solar Panels as a Way to Solve Energy and Climate Problems
Rick Hess, Konarka’s CEO, sees Power Plastic as a way of combating energy production and climate change problems, as he states here in an interview with television station NECN.
Military and Commercial Applications for Konarka’s Power Plastic
There are many potential uses for this new material. Konarka says that the military as well as several corporations are interested in helping them find new ways to use the material to create portable solar energy panels that can be placed on umbrellas in remote locations. The company mentions that it might soon be able to put the solar energy panels on clothing, making it possible to charge products like cell phones and laptop computers without ever plugging them into an outlet.
Rick Hess, CEO of Konarka, also has the futuristic vision of skyscrapers with windows coated in a clear vision of Power Plastic so that they are completely self-contained and never have to draw electricity from the power grid.
Powering Homes and Gadgets With Power Plastic’s Solar Energy
This is great leap forward from the solar lights and solar water heaters that are popular in many areas. If Konarka can reach its goals, it could mean having houses, retail stores, and perhaps even whole cities that operate from solar energy, not to mention all of the other gadgets that people carry around in their pockets that could be charged by their clothing. And all without the eyesore of large silicon solar panels.
Power Plastic Is Efficient But Has Some Downsides
There are some downsides to Power Plastic. CNNmoney.com writer Barney Gimbel reports that Konarka’s solar cells can only convert 6 percent of light into electricity. Silicon solar panels can use 16 to percent of the light that hits them.
Power Plastic also has a shorter lifespan. It can function well for about five years while standard silicon solar panels can work for up to 30.
Nearly Unlimited Applications for a Clear Power Plastic
Konarka has not been able to produce a transparent version of Power Plastic either. While the opportunities for the current model are impressive, a completely clear version of the product would have nearly unlimited applications because builders could adhere the solar cells to windows without blocking light.
A previous blog post on Easy Ways to Go Green reported that several green Major League Baseball stadiums are now getting some of their energy from solar panels. Imagine how much more attractive these options would be if they were powered by completely invisible solar cells.
Is Power Plastic Affordable?
Konarka is already selling its flexible solar panels, although it typically supplies manufacturers who incorporate the product into other goods. One Australian company “plans to purchase a few hundred thousand square meters of Power Plastic this year” to use “on parking lot canopies at Orlando International Airport,” according to Gimbel’s article.
The company believes that the airport could generate $150,000 worth of electricity in a year. Power Plastic sells for about $100 to $200 per square meter, which means the company would get a 35 percent return on their investment in ten years.