Photovoltaic polymer breakthroughs are coming fast these days, making the Plastic Solar Future all the more likely. Researchers at UCLA's School of Engineering published a paper in the current Nature Materials about their work on plastic pv, claiming the highest verified efficiency yet for polymer solar: 4.4%. Yes, that's lower than the efficiency other polymer pv developers have talked about, but this one has been verified by the US National Renewable Energy Lab, giving it the official stamp of approval.
Of perhaps greater interest is the use of relatively cheap and readily-available polymers as the base material for the solar panels. The plastics are significantly less expensive than the base materials for traditional silicon photovoltaic materials -- less than one-third the cost at present, with an ultimate goal of just 10% of the cost of silicon. Similarly, the researchers believe that they'll be able to get the polymer photovoltaic efficiency up to 15-20%.
Now, 10% of the cost of silicon is still more expensive than the $15/m2 Danish solar plastic we've talked about before, but the UCLA polymer pv is already more efficient than the Danish version, and the efficiency goal is much higher. I would be very happy to see a range of photovoltaic plastics available for commercial use, from 5% @ $15/m2 to 15% @ $50/m2 to 50% @ $500/m2.
Just out of curiosity, what is the current cost per square meter of silicon based pv?
It varies considerably, but I've seen prices ranging up to $800/square meter. There's apparently a shortage of sufficiently pure silicon right now.
What do you think the life-cycle cost, in dollars/M2-watt, amortized over say, 20 years, would be? I ask because if the plastic PV is ephemeral, its life-cycle cost might be very high, especially if it's embedded into building materials. This would be similar to the economics of exit signs: an LED exit sign saves money partly from reduced current, but also from avoiding the need to pay someone to change the bulb every 7 to 9 months.