Solar Energy Photovoltaic Cells

In this century, the use of solar cells is a major goal for supplying energy needs for the United States as well as the world. As of 2005, the world market for solar cells was about 3 to 4 billion dollars. Of this amount Japan had a 20 percent share, according to economic experts. Germany had the greatest number of solar installations, accounting for 57 percent. The United States accounts for 7 percent and Europe accounts for 6 percent. The rest of the world accounts for 10 percent.

Many companies are focusing on the technology in the production of solar cells. However, the technology still remains expensive when compared to the costs of fossil fuels. Presently solar cells have two major problems: they cost too much to make (in the form of energy), and they are not very efficient. Typical efficiencies for solar cells range from 10 to 15 percent.

Scientists have been doing a lot of research and experiments with quantum dots to make photovoltaic cells more efficient. Anew quantum-dot-based solar cell has recently been prototyped with 30 percent efficiency.

One company, Nanosolar, has developed a low-cost technology to make solar cells based on the economics of printing. Their technology is like printing solar film on paper. To make the thin-film solar cells, Nanosolar prints CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer using machines that look like printing presses. There is no costly silicon involved in the process. According to the company, a solar cell from Nanosolar will cost about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a standard silicon solar cell.

The technology of producing thin-film solar cells has the potential to achieve mass production at low costs. One economic researcher estimates that the market for thin-film solar cells will increase in the next fewyears, and then reach $1.5 billion in sales in 2012. See Chapter 8 for more information about photovoltaic cells.

Did you know?

CIGS are made up of four elements. Copper (Cu) is a reddish metal that is used mostly for electrical equipment. Indium (In) is a soft, metallic metal that is used as a protective plate for bearings and other metal surfaces. Gallium (Ga) is a soft blue-gray metal. As gallium arsendite (GaAs), it is used in light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Selenium (Se) is a nonmetallic chemical element used extensively in electronics, such as in photocells.

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