Nanosolar Update

Happy New Year to all. Still in the U.S. for a few more days, just checking in when I can.

I have been pretty interested lately in what Nanosolar is doing, so this is a timely update from The Guardian (which as I have mentioned before promotes this blog on the front page of their electronic edition):

Solar energy ‘revolution’ brings green power closer

Some excerpts:

The holy grail of renewable energy came a step closer yesterday as thousands of mass-produced wafer-thin solar cells printed on aluminium film rolled off a production line in California, heralding what British scientists called “a revolution” in generating electricity.

The solar panels produced by a Silicon Valley start-up company, Nanosolar, are radically different from the kind that European consumers are increasingly buying to generate power from their own roofs. Printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminium foil, they are flexible, light and, if you believe the company, expected to make it as cheap to produce electricity from sunlight as from coal.

At the moment solar electricity costs nearly three times as much as conventional electricity to generate, but Nanosolar’s developments are thought to have halved the price of producing conventional solar cells at a stroke.

“This is the world’s lowest-cost solar panel, which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as 99 cents a watt,” said Roscheisen yesterday.

However, the company, which claims to lead the “third wave” of solar electricity, is notoriously secretive and has not answered questions about its panels’ efficiency or their durability. It is quite open about wanting to restrict access to the technology to give it a market advantage.

Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Britain’s leading solar energy company, Solar Century, said that it would be “breathtaking” if the technology proved as efficient as projected by the company. “This is a revolution. But people are going to be amazed at other developments taking place in solar technologies. We will be thrilled if this technology is as efficient as the company says. It will not change the direction of solar power in itself. Spectacular improvements are also being made in other parts of the industry,” he said.

I really hope Nanosolar can pull this thing off. It would be a huge step forward.

14 thoughts on “Nanosolar Update”

  1. In many ways physical scientists have huge advantages when deciphering energy markets, and RR’s prowess is often evident.
    My background in in economics, and being a lifelong financial reporter (and furniture maker). There are few advantages to my hodge-podge background, save perhaps one: A belief in the price mechanism, and free enterprise (when well-capitalized with VC money) – to solve “shortages.”
    We only have a “shortage” of oil now due to most of the world’s crude being under the feet of thug nations. A problem, but solutions are on the way.
    Solar power, and wind and nukes and geothermal and coal, certainly seem able to run our electrical grids. We will not run out of electricity.
    Nanosolar, we can hope, is another brick in this foundation. The switch to PHEVs takes us a long, long way to a post-fossil oil economy, that I define as one that is growing but using less, not more., fossil oil every year.
    We are almost there already. I think 2008 marks the beginning of “post-fossil” economies.
    Unless thug states start pumping more oil.

  2. Happy New Year to you, Robert, and to the rest of the R-Squared community.

    I also hope Nanosolar delivers on their extraordinary claims. Other CIGS providers have had big problems. Of course First Solar had problems for 10+ years, now they’re on track to dominate the PV market.

  3. The Air Force (H/T Patterco) is making progress on its issue:

    The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.

    As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military’s jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.

    The 50-50 blend is less expensive โ€“ between $40 to $75 per barrel โ€“ and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military’s JP-8 fuel.

    … The flight followed a similar demonstration with a B-52 Stratofortress bomber last year. The fuel was then certified for use in the B-52 this summer. The service hopes to have all its planes certified to run on the fuel within the next five years. And by 2016, the Air Force hopes to meet half their US demand for fuel using the synthetic blend, first used in the 1920s, but further developed during World War II.

    The Air Force would like to increase the amount of synthetic fuel it uses by that time, but recognizes that the private sector’s push to get there will largely determine how fast the Air Force can move towards its goal or accelerate beyond it.

  4. Larryd – the Air Force test news is about a year old. The fuel is Fischer-Tropsch liquid made by the Syntroleum Corporation . There are a number of FT projects around the world.

    The purpose of the test was to ensure that the FT / JP-8 blend didn’t freeze. The $40-$75 / bbl estimated costs are probably low. Costs for gas to liquids plants have risen sharply in the last 2 years and exceed $100,000 per barrel per day capacity. Also it depends on feedstock costs. If you start with gas the costs are cheaper, coal is much more expensive to gasify, but the cost on a BTU basis is cheaper.

  5. dirt cheap had a short product life! that’s what we need for thin-film photovoltaics right now.

    a couple of years back, some researcher showed that if you had a three-year computing project, waiting 18 to 20 months after you get your funding, increases in computing power would make it possible to get the job done in in time even with starting late. with the rate at which we are dropping the price per watt of photovoltaics, it’s not an unlikely scenario that it might be worth waiting for or five years to get yours installed.

    this would be a bad thing.

    if photovoltaics could be considered consumables and replaced every 5-10 years, we would provide some much-needed capital in the industry as well as well as a potential future revenue stream (also needed for industry growth).

    attractive to a broader range of early adopters, rapid turnover making room for higher efficiency photovoltaic technologies, revenue for the industry. What’s not to like

  6. Evidently, the 2008 Jan. issue of Scientific American has a lengthy article in which the virtues of solar power are trumpeted at length. I read a synopsis on another website.
    I happen to agree with it, although I confess I am only following RR’s lead.
    Somehow, SA came up with the number $420 billion in subsidies, when defining the cost of going solar way. This strikes me as peanuts — we have blown that much and more already in Iraq.
    $420 billion to become independent from crude? And get cleaner air and quieter cities?
    Happy New Year to all my fellow RR posters. I have learned tons on this website. Let us hope the optimistic visions of the future are the right ones, and I think they are.
    And I hope all of you have a great New Year, all the way through.

  7. Speaking of the bet, I’m looking forward to another update on your predictions for the year and how accurate you were.

    Happy New Year!

  8. From the upcoming February 2008 issue of Popular Mechanics: The Ethanol Fallacy

    The idea is so appealing: We can reduce our dependence on oilโ€”stop sending U.S. dollars to corrupt petro-dictators, stop spewing megatons of carbon into the atmosphere by replacing it with clean, home-grown, all-American corn. It sounds too good to be true.

    Sadly, it is.

  9. Not directly on topic, but interesting anyway: Iran hits the wall
    Turkmenistan has stopped natural gas exports to Iran, causing winter shortages in some parts of its neighbour, Iranian officials said on Monday.

    The major Central Asia producer blamed technical problems but some Iranian media reports suggested it had halted deliveries because it wanted to raise the price of gas.

    Turkmenistan normally supplies 5 percent of Iran’s gas consumption with 20-23 million cubic metres per day, the National Iranian Gas Company said.

    … Iran subsidizes natural gas so as to keep things running and folks happy. They don’t use natural gas to rejuvenate their oil fields, which is one of the cheapest ways to do it. Instead, with non-market prices they get steep use and an increase in that use. If an energy source is cheaper than others, it gets over-utilized, just ask the folks in Iraq who don’t pay monthly bills for electricity but get the ‘all you can eat with a flat tax’ deal from the Government. If there were meters, Iraq’s power problem would diminish greatly, but that would also stall out the economic recovery so it will wait. Iran, however, is selling the natural gas at a rate cheaper than re-utilizing it for their oil fields. In theory they should have more than enough to export.

    Which brings up the prime question: Why is Iran importing any natural gas?

    And why is 5% of their natural gas supplies coming from imports via Turkmenistan?

    This was supposed to be a money making export, as they had just finished a pipeline deal with India for natural gas. So *what* are they going to put in that pipeline? Right now the answer is NOTHING.

    The folks in Turkmenistan suddenly had a great awakening: they were keeping the Iranian natural gas market afloat and NO ONE ELSE WOULD SELL TO THEM.

    If you were in that position, what would *you* do?

    Can you say: raise the prices?

    And if Iran doesn’t play pattycake?

    ‘We have *repairs* so no natural gas for you until we are done.’

    In other words: pay up, or else.

    Iran, with its refineries in disrepair can’t capture enough natural gas to keep its own markets going and hasn’t invested much of anything in marginal expansion or new gas field work since 1979. And since folks pay under the market price to help keep the economy going, you can’t very well raise the price of it, can you?

  10. Instapundit posts on How to break OPEC.
    Which is different than “energy independence” or “getting off oil”.

    How can we break the OPEC oil cartel for $100 a car? Engineer Bob Zubrin has the answer — by requiring all new cars sold in the United States to be flex-fuel vehicles that can run not just on gasoline, but on ethanol and methanol.

    I have to wonder if flex-fuel would only cost $100/car?

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