Monday, July 18, 2005

A Nanotech-based Photovoltaic Future

Over at Trends..., Myke has a post on how nano-technology could be the next big boost that could finally get solar energy past "just around the corner" status. Currently solar energy costs $4 - $5 per unit, whereas the market would pay only around $2 - $2.5.

Currently photovoltaic cells are made in facilities almost as expensive and sophisticated as those used to make micro-chips. However, "With nanotechnology, tiny solar cells can be printed onto flexible, very thin light-retaining materials, bypassing the cost of silicon production. The companies also say that the printed rolls of solar cells would be lighter, more resilient and flexible than silicon photovoltaics."

An interesting point is made in this post. Imagine that every structure in the US is linked to the electricity grid. And then photovoltaics are made cheap enough that everyone can afford them. Now if every rooftop in the US is covered with photovoltaics, the total power generated will be 710 GW, slightly less than the current total electricity capacity 950 GW. And built-up area is usually a miniscule fraction of a percentage of the total land area in a country.

Distribution is automatically solved, because every grid connected household can sell excess power back to the grid. And if you dont want to cover your entire roof with photovoltaics because you cannot afford it, someone else could do it for you for a small consideration.

But this is a rather unlikely direction for the future, because if photovoltaics become affordable, you would have huge photovoltaic power plants bringing power to your homes using the very same power lines that now power your homes.