Greens are overjoyed to see Hemlock Semiconductor gearing up a 17,000 tonne polysilicon plant to furnish two gigawatts of solar cells a year, but some materials scientists have doubts about the billion dollar investment: the DOE estimates PhotoVoltaic capacity will barely reach 10 billion kilowatt hours by 2030.
This is only .2% of projected energy use, far below projections for other renewable energy sources notes Materials Today ,which opines "The PV industry must sidestep the need for high capital expenditure by tapping into unused capacity."
Silicon computer chip foundries have no surplus capacity. They are running flat out, so John de Mello and Omar Cheema of Imperial College London suggest the future of cheap solar may lie in Rupert Murdoch's back yard. Tabloid printing presses can bang out organic solar cells when the news is slow:
'organic semiconductors... share many of the chemical and rheological properties of conventional inks...Their low materials cost, ease of processing, and minimal component counts promise significant savings ."
Printed solar cells lag behind crystalline semiconductors in efficiency and lifetime-- the best they can presently do is 6% energy conversion for about one year, though advanced n-type PODOT derivatives or boromers may soon do better . Yet though silicon cells are not much better, they attract massive investment, and the prospect of founding a fabulously Fab-less new electronic power sector may intrigue printers union pension funds:
"OPV is still an early stage, high-risk technology, but its successful adaptation to print manufacturing would be genuinely revolutionary, enabling solar electricity to be deployed on a scale and at a rate that is unimaginable with Silicon."
6% is no solution to the world's energy woes, but newsprint solar already beats photosynthesis when it comes to quantum efficiency.
Power is never too cheap to meter, but if next generation laptops start printing out power supplies when taken to the beach, scrap solar cells may one day supplant newspapers as the foremost medium for wrapping fish.