Breakthrough in Solar Power Nanotech?

Has Nanosolar found the Holy Grail of solar energy?

For years, the price of solar energy has been so high that, without some form of subsidy, it has beenunable to compete with power from the electrical grid. Now Nanosolar, a Palo Alto,California, start-up claims it has developed a “commercial-scale technology”that cuts the cost of delivering solar power by 75 percent and makes itcompetitive with juice generated by fossil fuels.

According to a report in The Hindu, a national newspaper in India, Nanosolarmaintains that its technology can deliver solar electricity at five cents akilowatt-hour (kWh). That compares to today’s solar industry average ofabout 20 cents per kWh, according to Atakan Ozbek, director of energyresearch at ABI Research in Oyster Bay, New York.

A Spectacular ‘If’

The average cost of electricity off the grid varies widely but on averageis around 10 cents per kWh, noted Tom Djokovich, CEO of XsunX, of AlisoViejo, California, a maker of glass that produces electricity fromsunlight. “If they [Nanosolar] can come in there at 50 percent of that, that’sobviously spectacular,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“But if they’re using math in which they’re amortizing the cost per kilowatthour over some extended period of time, just about anyone could come up withsomething that can be viewed as attractive,” he added.

When TechNewsWorld requested by e-mail an interview with Nanosolar CEOMartin Roscheisen, the executive responded, “We will keep you postedregarding upcoming announcements and our official launch … at which timewe’ll be happy to send you detailed information.”

Roscheisen added in another message that the “official launch” of hiscompany’s product would occur in “two weeks.”

Sounds Fishy

“This is somehow fishy, isn’t it?” said Nabil M.Lawandy, president, chief executive officer, chief technology officer andchairman of the board of directors of Solaris Nanosciences Corporation inProvidence, Rhode Island.

“Instead of letting the Wall Street Journal know or publishing it in Scienceor Nature or Physical Review Letter or something like that we’re hearingabout it through The Hindu,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Solaris is developing molecule-sized antennas to improve the efficiency ofsolar cells used to produce electricity. It is working closely with acompany, Konarka Technologies, of Lowell, Massachusetts, that some see as amajor competitor of Nanosolar.

Doesn’t Make Sense

“I don’t believe their claims,” an executive at one solar energy company, who asked to remain anonymous,told TechNewsWorld. “It doesn’tmake sense what they’re saying.”

“It’s certainly possible at some point in the distant future,” the executiveadded. “People announce breakthroughs that they’ve made in the laboratory,and they project costs, but they haven’t made any commercial product andthat’s very difficult to do.”

Rona Fried, editor and publisher of the Progressive Investor newsletter,which recently released a report on the solar energy industry, “Investing inSolar Photovoltaics: A Market at the Tipping Point,” told TechNewsWorld thatNanosolar isn’t expected to have a commercial product available until 2007at the earliest.

Hot Company

“Nanosolar is one of the up-and-coming privately-held companies in thefield,” she said. “They’ve got a technology that they’re working on now andthey plan to enter full production in the next couple of years.”

If Nanosolar’s technology can produce electricity at five cents per kWh,”that would be really great,” she noted. “That would make it [solar] verycompetitive with fossil fuels.”

“That’s the beauty of solar using nanotechnology,” she added. “They aregoing to be able to bring the price of solar way down.”

Manufacturing Key

The use of nanotechnology allows very thin solar panels to be created.”They’ll be very lightweight, and they’ll be able to mass print them ontorolls like newspaper and then just roll it out on rooftops,” Friedexplained.

The big challenge for the makers of these products, though, will bemanufacturing, according to ABI’s Ozbek.

“What’s imperative is developing a cost efficient manufacturing process,which companies such as Nanosolar need to provide,” he told TechNewsWorldvia e-mail.

“A recent defense contract will provide a significant opportunity toNanosolar to develop and showcase its technology, but it will be competingagainst other start up companies such as Konarka and Nanosys and largecompanies such as GE in developing printable cells,” he added.

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