Company sets record for solar efficiency
August 10, 2007 - Kim Leonard -
Solar energy's cost and relative inefficiency
have stunted its growth for decades, but Harmar-based
Plextronics Inc. said it's made a major step toward
solving both problems through a technology that "prints"
solar cell technology onto plastic or glass.
said Thursday it set a world record for efficiency
in converting solar light to power, as certified by
the federal Department of Energy's National Renewable
Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. And its technology
could cut the cost of solar cells to less than $1
a watt, about one-fifth of today's standard cell made
"Some of the potential customers for this
are talking about coming out with products as early
as 2008," said Troy Hammond, Plextronics' vice president
of products, though the company expects a more significant
impact a year or two later.
Plextronics, known for
its "electronic ink" used in cell phone screens and
other devices, started developing organic photovoltaic
technology less than two years ago. In June, the Carnegie
Mellon University spinoff won a $3 million DOE grant
to develop its process for commercial uses.
ink system set a record for single layer organic solar
cells of converting 5.4 percent of solar light to
electricity, compared to a previous high of 5.2 percent
set about a year ago in the rapidly advancing industry.
Plextronics' first solar products will be relatively
simple, and many will be geared for consumers, Hammond
Portable chargers for laptop computer batteries
or other devices could be made with glass solar cells
that provide five or so watts, for example. On the
flexible side, a jacket's outer layer could collect
energy and transfer it to a wireless phone.
Plexcore could be used to make energy-generating devices
for remote regions and for enhancing power grids worldwide,
Hammond said. There are potential military uses, including
flexible tent fabrics to heat and power encampments.
Solar energy professionals were impressed yesterday
with Plextronics' achievement.
"The cost of installation
and the cost of the product is what makes solar not
as competitive as other sources of power," said Ann
Gerace, executive director of the nonprofit Conservation
Consultants Inc., South Side.
Still, competition is
robust right now to boost efficiency and bring down
costs, and "whoever can do that is going to have a
real advantage in the marketplace," said Maureen Mulligan,
Pennsylvania lobbyist with the Mid-Atlantic Solar
Energy Industries Association, adding Plextronics'
feat could be a "major breakthrough."
vice president of marketing and sales for Solar Power
Industries Inc., of Rostraver in Westmoreland County,
said Plextronics' technology, like his own company's,
has much potential for home and commercial construction.
A window or glass panel in a home could work as a
power generator, he said, or on the roof, solar shingles
could do the same job as a three-kilowatt solar roof
installation that costs as much as $25,000.
uses for Plextronics' glass or plastic solar cells
would come later, Hammond said. "We are moving fast,
and we have a clear path to improving this technology."
Kim Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org