There are many strategies for creating photon to electron devices which can deliver the transduced energy that surrounds us at a price we can afford, in the amounts we will need, in the time we have to deploy them.
First generation photovoltaics, although very proven and very reliable, have production cost issues. There is a lot of energy in a standard silicon solar cell. Besides the energy in the mining and the tranportation of the raw silicon, there is energy that is inputed to control the environment to grow the crystal. There is also the energy in the glass on the cover and in the metal that frames the panel. These costs can be managed, but few see one sun silicon providing more than 5 units of energy for every unit of energy that it took to produce the panel.
Providing more suns on the crystal with less imbedded energy will increase that ratio.
But the exciting field of photon to electron conversion is moving quickly now into second and third generation technologies.
Here is a story from Renewable Energy Access that tells part of the story:
Thin-film and Organic PV on the Rise
by Lawrence Gasman, Principal Analyst, NanoMarkets LC
April 17, 2006
"The combination of better materials, the evolution of thin-film transistor technology, and new production methods is establishing thin-film and organic photovoltaics as a hot area for investment. Recent market forecast and analysis carried out by my firm NanoMarkets LC, indicates that revenues from PV modules that use materials such as thin-film amorphous silicon, CIS/CIGS, cadmium telluride, small molecules, polymers or organic dyes will reach $2.3 billion by 2011.
Why is thin-film PV taking off now? It has been around for more than a decade and until quite recently its main claim to fame has been as the key enabler for solar powered calculators. Today, however, thin-film is benefiting from a "perfect storm" of market drivers.
Solar power of all kinds is attracting considerable interest, because of high prices and dire predictions for continued reliance on fossil fuels. And thin-film PV is getting particular attention, in part, because it gets around the current shortage of silicon that the traditional PV market is currently experiencing.
A radically new direction for creating PV is represented by printing. "Printing" in this case, may mean either traditional printing technologies that have been associated with graphics printing for decades or centuries.
Or it may mean ink-jet printing. Not all materials lend themselves to this approach, though. It is particularly associated with organic materials. However, at least one firm is pursuing the goal of a silicon ink. Printing will supposedly bring down the cost of PV in a radical new way, ultimately resulting in orders of magnitude and improvements in cost per watt."
Imagine every ink-jet printer becoming a photovoltaic manufacturing device?
Imagine every computer and printer combined with a special cartridge
and a special plastic carbon substrate being capable of making a PV?
This marriage of the PC and the PV would be truly revolutionary.
And it would be a classic disruptive technology,
just like the Cell phone was to the land line.
It would allow buyers of PC's to manufacture the energy device
they will need to run the PC that they have just purchased,
and their lights, or their PDA.
What if you could download the program with your PDA/cell phone,
and even order the printing cartridge for your the ink jet printer,
from almost anywhere?
What if the plastic sheets were ubiquitous?
Then, the energy that is invested in the manufacturing process,
is greatly reduced.
The PV panel is not just assembled locally, it is manufactured locally.
Not that long ago,
I imagined that someday we would see power paints, and rectennas,
and carbon based thin film technologies that will completely replace
our present very old archaic ways of deriving our energy from the
of the dead.
And honestly now,
it should come as no surprise to the brujo in us all,
that this "derived energy" from the dead,
would have just a little more than a just a little karma attached to it.
A PC PV disruption to that inglorious final act might be the kind of
disruption we need.
Besides, I've seen that opera.
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*art courtesy of Mara McWilliams