The size of traditional solar panels has made them difficult to move around, as well as relatively expensive and not conducive to life in many parts of the world. Researchers at The University of Newcastle, Australia, are hoping to change the way the sun’s energy is harvested with their printed solar tiles. Their method, called functional printing, is cheaper, easier and quicker than other solar panels, and an upgrade to the way the sun’s rays are converted to energy. Professor Paul Dastoor has led the team’s research, and they are now in their final testing phase monitoring Australia’s first printed solar field.
The technique uses an advanced electronic ink which is printed on paper thin, clear laminated sheets using a conventional printer. The ink is made by the team, from non-toxic carbon-based materials, which can be used as is or further processed into water-based inks or paints. The film is light enough to be held to the roof and walls, at the site, using velcro. Production cost is less than U$10 per tile, and they can be manufactured quicker than any other renewable energy source. A commercial printer would be capable of manufacturing kilometers of the panels each day. Dastoor’s team believes this could be the answer to the country’s search into finding ways to reduce the demand for base-load power.
It is estimated that there are currently at least 1.2 billion people worldwide without access to electricity, and this technology promises to take it into many remote communities. In addition, it would revolutionize the way in which solar power is provided, in other areas. One of the obstacles currently associated with solar power, is the initial cost of installing the panels. Printed solar tiles can be distributed by energy providers, and packages could be recommended based on each household’s usage requirements. The panels are also ideal for recovery efforts, and disaster relief, because of the speed at which they can be printed and transported via airdrop. They would also be advantageous to military operations, as the panels can provide electricity noiselessly.
The current demonstration site in Australia, has been built as a final testing stage. Researchers aim to identify any modifications that may be necessary, before the product is marketable. The site sends feedback every half hour, and is the first time the panels have been tested in a real life situation. The long term testing will determine the durability of the printed solar tiles, and has already demonstrated that they have a more constant power flow in low-light and cloud cover, which would prevent customers experiencing dips in their service. The material is also sensitive enough to produce small amounts of energy using moonlight.