Nanosolar recently announced the release of their ultra cheap solar panel, SolarPly. This is basically solar cells printed on aluminum. This “foil” is “non-fragile”, can be cut or bent to any shape, and doesn’t require soldering for electrical contact. While other manufacturers have been focusing on making their solar panels more efficient, Nanosolar has been focusing on making panels cheaper to produce. Nanosolar says SolarPly costs $1 per watt, which is just less than half of coal’s $2.10 per watt cost, and retail for $0.99 per panel (except on eBay). ((eBay has since remove the auction from its site, claiming that the auction violated eBay’s terms for donating auction proceeds to charity.))
This is a step in the right direction, but innovation is still needed for solar panels to become a realistic alternative. Cost and space has always been a huge barrier to solar technology becoming a mainstream energy source. However, a bigger issue is still efficiency. A rooftop full of cheap solar cells will still not meet the demands of your average house. Which doesn’t say much for commercial applications.
While having solar panels on your rooftop will take a bite out off total electric use, it still doesn’t replace the grid. When you can power an entire house off a few “non-fragile,” flexible, slim, attractive, weather-proof, and inexpensive solar panels it will be time to celebrate the beginning of the solar revolution. Until then we’ll keep an eye on Google’s RE<C initiative.