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Somenath Mitra, PhD, is among a group of NJIT researchers working to develop an inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels.  (Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology)
Scientists say the plastic panels could be cranked out at home with an inkjet printer

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) claim to have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.

In a release prepared by the University, researcher Somenath Mitra, PhD, stated, "Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations."  Mitra is a professor and acting chair of NJIT's Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences.

Purified silicon, the same core material used for fabricating computer chips, is required for making conventional photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. The material is costly, difficult to handle and manufacture, and as a result, it is also subject to shortages. The NJIT research is focused on replacing purified silicon organic solar cells based on polymers.

Not only would such materials be vastly cheaper than silicon-based PV cells, they would also be significantly easier to use in a variety of ways. "Imagine someday driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless," Mitra said.

The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, combined with carbon "Buckyballs," or fullerenes. Together, these nanomaterials form snake-like structures using Buckyballs to trap electrons generated by polymers exposed to sunlight. Nanotubes are used to conduct the electrons, creating a flowing current.

Details of the process were described in the article "Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells," recently published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry by the Royal Society of Chemistry.



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RE: Where can I buy one?
By ZmaxDP on 7/25/2007 7:39:12 PM , Rating: 1
No one is arguing that 17K isn't a lot of money, or that Alaska (random state) is a great place for panels either (though technically some spots in Alaska are, if you wanted to know). Nor is anyone arguing that solar panels can provide a constant amount of power in varying weather conditions.

However, I don't think you'd try and argue that your home draws a constant amount of power either. So, what is your point? Normally, you draw the most load in summer when the most energy is available. While loads are higher in the winter at night for heating, in most seriously cold areas you aren't using electricity for that anyway. So, your electricity loads usually decrease significantly during winter months, though lighting loads do increase. With a decent panel setup you'll usually be running your meter backwards during the day, and then running it normally at night. A good 3kW array hooked up to your local power grid can definitely pay for itself over the course of several years. There are more than enough examples of this happening already with much lower efficiency panels that were installed 5 years ago. So the ROI should be less with newer panels.

No one was comparing this investment to one in stocks or bonds, but since you made the comparison, here goes...

Let's say you get your 17K turned into 25K in 5 years. That's 8 grand, not too shabby. Of course, you also paid about 3 grand a year in electricity costs so you lost 15 Grand. At a 8% per annum interest rate, it would take you
about another 5 years to start making as much money as you'd been paying in utilities off the interest. However, you would have paid 30 grand in electricity costs, and have about 32 grand in the account. Now, your interest is paying for your electricity. Awesome... My balance meter says that's a 2 Grand difference.

Now, let's say your 17 Grand turned into solar panels. Well, you're now paying almost nothing over the course of the year for energy. So, after 5 years you've recouped 15 grand. Over 10 years you've not spent 13 grand you would have. Well, you don't have 32G in an account somewhere, but you haven't spent 30G on electricity, just 17 Grand, and, you do have 13 Grand in an account.

All that's of course assuming that energy prices don't rise between now and then. In reality, prices will be increasing over those 10 years, just like the stocks... Of course, long term is where the investment looks better - you start getting ahead once that investment grows to 60 or 70 grand, or more. Meanwhile solar man has to replace his panels at some point. On the other hand, your 3kW system shouldn't cost you 17 Grand anymore either. Not that my accounting is vaguely close to accurate here, but your implication that one is a loss of 17 grand and the other is some 8 grand grab for glory is just wrong. Both are investments, both have their own yield points and potential hazards. Both are solid investments. My accounting also misses out on the recouped costs of the fossil fuel emissions your panels eliminated, and the various hazardous materials required to manufacture solar panels...

TomZ: How is it bogus?

Personal computers weren't cost effective one either. Hell, socks weren't cost effective at some point in time. That didn't stop some people from using them, and it is those people that allow any technology to come to fruition (and cost effectiveness).

That being said, whether a solar panel array is cost effective is dependent upon how long you'll be able to use them. I know of at least 15 people in Austin, Tx who have recouped their costs in less than 5 years using older less efficient panels. If they installed the panels and left the next week, you're right they aren't cost effective. If they stay in those houses for 15 years, they'll be reaping the rewards big time! Now given, Austin has some additional incentives for solar systems that the rest of the state doesn't have. That 17G system would only cost about 12-14G in Austin. However, Austin has the same buy-back rate on power as most of the state does, and several of those homes on the survey were actually making money from their panels.

Saying they aren't cost effective without any qualifying information is flat out irresponsible. Given the right climate, and about 5 years, most homes could break even on their investment. Given 10 years, most homes could far surpass the investment in money saved/earned. Given a 15% efficient solar panel (there are many higher efficiency panels on the market currently, BP has an 18% efficient panel, and I understand a 24% panel is soon to come) the geographical area that fits into this generalization makes up about 30% of the US, and some areas are quite surprising.


RE: Where can I buy one?
By TomZ on 7/25/2007 9:10:11 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
TomZ: How is it bogus?

It's bogus because you're ignoring about 20 different factors. I don't have time for a lengthy reply, so let me take this shortcut. If you live in the US, try out the following web site: http://www.findsolar.com. Click on My Solar Estimator.

I did (I live in Michigan), put in my information, and it came up with a total estimated cost of $52,000 and it calculted 36 years to break even. I can quickly think of a dozen other investments that will perform better than that.

Try it yourself, based on where you live.

Economically, installing solar panels in your house makes little sense. You have to pick a different reason to justify solar panel investment, if you want to, because saving money just isn't a valid reason.


RE: Where can I buy one?
By ZmaxDP on 7/26/2007 11:41:40 PM , Rating: 2
Man, someone needs to work on their caculator, cause it is way off. I'm going to e-mail them and ask for some more of their assumptions, because something is just wrong. It reccomended a 14Kw system to meet my needs based on solar angles, etc... Which is laughable, and were it true, you'd be right.

As far as I can tell be reverse engineering their calculations, they are assuming panels at roughly 15 to 16 % efficient. I know that about two years ago I helped install some panels that were about 18% efficient, so I'd imagine things are better now, as mentioned in my earlier post. Looking at their other efficiency assumptions, they are very conservative. I know the solar company I worked with wouldn't install an inverter that didn't pass a 95% efficiency testing in their lab. The worst assumption of all is that the page is set to assume you want to have enough panels to meet 100% of your peak load at the specified solar radiance average. This is also just silly. The whole point of being tied into the grid is so you don't have to do that! You should take a look at your average utility rate, and then at the average buy-back rate (which is usually lower - I wish congress would get off their ass and require energy companies to buy back electricity at the same rate they sell it). Take a look at the percentage difference. If your buyback is half of your rate, then you should aim to be selling twice as much energy as you buy for a good break even point. So, aim for enough panels to meet 2/3rds of your calculated peak loads. Not 100%

Correct those assumptions to match some updated figures and you're in a lot better shape...

Listen, you can run web calcs all you want. I personally know people who've seen ROI at 5 years or less on solar systems in Austin. As mentioned, we've got good solar exposure (not poor) and some nice rebates from our local energy company (10%!) so we've definitely got an edge on michigan. Now, I'd like to know what 20 different factors I'm ignoring this time around, or for that matter what 20 different factors some clients (and reality) are ignoring too. You'll have a hard time convincing them they haven't gotten their money back...

Like I said before, comparing solar panels to stock investments is silly. Not quite as silly as the OP implied, but still a bit silly. Especially over a long period of time. The beauty of compounding and all... But, just as I was ignoring "20 factors" that neither of us can probably name, you're ignoring hundreds of factors which I'll lump sum into this one: The economic costs of climate change and fossil fuel depletion. There is no internet calculator to lump up those costs, and if you could disperse that over the tons and tons of CO2 you don't pump into the air when you're using solar panels, it might have a much higher value than you'd think...

One parting shot. People shouldn't install solar panels to MAKE money, but you said people shouldn't install solar panels to SAVE money, and I'm sorry but I know better. You can install solar panels and save a lot of money, and it doesn't take nearly as long as you, or that website imply, if you do it correctly. (By coorrectly I mean don't install them in your basement, or on your roof at the correct solar angle in Michigan. You're not in the 40% that are close to the 5 year ROI mark on a properly installed, properly sized solar panel array.) Wait another 5 years for us to hit 50% efficient panels and then I'll tell you to install them too.


"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings











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