Central to the development is the use of film technology that contains the necessary materials to collect and convert solar energy into power. There are different methods of application being looked at, including plating on or directly printing. The main advantages are producing solar collection devices that are lighter and less expensive to produce.
These ideas have sparked the interest of various companies. As reported by The Guardian, major players investing in this include Panasonic, Fujifilm, Statoil ASA and Legal & General Capital. The technology will take a few years before it can be fully commercialized (possibly up to five years before it appears on sale).
The development of lightweight solar capture technology is also receiving interest from the university sector, with research being undertaken by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, U.S. Here the most promising technology is based on perovskite cells. These cells, in contrast to conventional silicon-based photovoltaic materials, are soluble in different solvents. This ability allows them to be sprayed onto a variety of different surfaces, a little like applying an ink.
The films can then be applied to flexible materials, heralding a wide range of digital electronic devices that can be utilized by businesses and consumers alike. The only requirement would be that the cell would need to be periodically exposed to light in order to capture the energy needed for the power conversion. The technology can also be used for window printing meaning that power can potentially be absorbed directly from windows.
For businesses that want to either ‘go green’ or be powered in more cost efficient ways solar panels are often prohibitive, in terms of initial set up costs or logistics because of the size of the panels. By having the technology to spray the required material on to a rooftop, this technology would address both concerns.
READ FURTHER: Digital transformation is reshaping the energy sector
These kind of initiatives also fit in with the digital transformation of businesses. The analysis of business costs constitutes a significant part of big data analytics — and power consumption is a big cost. By collecting information about where power is used most greatly in a company through digital monitors and analyzing this, then costs can be saved by positioning power more closely to the source. The types of spray-on solar panels described represent the types of ideas that can be harnessed an embedded in digital transformation projects.
According to the lead technologist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dr. Jao Van de Lagemaat: “This field is moving so rapidly that I’m sure in a few years you will start seeing products you can actually hold in your hand”