This morning I attended an inspirational talk by Professor Andrew Blakers on Australian solar cell technology:
"... Sliver solar cell technology is capable of cost reductions of three quarters compared with current photovoltaic technology. Sliver technology was invented at the Australian National University (http://solar.anu.edu.au).
Standard materials and techniques are used in novel ways to create thin single crystalline solar cells with superior performance and sharply reduced cost. Sliver technology is a disruptive technology within a well-established conventional industry, and has an excellent chance of dominating the burgeoning worldwide photovoltaic industry.
First generation Sliver technology is being commercialised in Adelaide by Origin Energy (http://sliver.com.au). ANU is developing a second generation Sliver technology which offers large technical and manufacturing improvements over first generation technology. ..."
From: "The Extraordinary Prospects for Sliver Solar Cell Technology", Prof Andrew Blakers, CSES SEMINAR SERIES, 2006-03-10 <http://cecs.anu.edu.au/seminars/showone.pl?SID=147>.
The clever bit about the technology is that it is uses existing silicon material and processes in a more efficient way. Instead of using a whole silicon wafer as a solar cell, they slice it into thousands of thin strips (slivers) and so get more electricity out of the same amount of material. As well as helping the environment, this could earn billions of dollars for Australia.
One use for the cells is in window panes. As the cells are thin slivers, they can be used as window shades, letting some light through and turning the rest into electricity.
One use which occurred to me might be in India, where there is a shortage of electricity. Offices and cyber cafes have large banks of batteries to supply electricity during blackouts. Cheap solar cells could be added to charge the batteries and supply surplus to the grid. The cells could also be used to charge the batteries of the electric cars being made in Bangalore.
One issue I raised at question time was regulatory impediments to energy conservation. My smart apartment is in a building with a computer controlled solar boosted gas hot water system. The cost of gas used is therefore very low. But the gas company, with the blessing of the the ACT government regulator, charges each apartment in the complex the same amount as if we each had a gas connection. As a result I am penalized for using solar power.
Professor Andrew Blakers is an inspiring speaker with a grasp of the economics as well as the materials science involved. He was asked if the Australian government had expressed interest. Unfortunately, while the Greens and the ALP politicians have been along to talk to him (as well as the Governor General), none of the relevant government ministers have bothered to visit.
ps: If the Ministers do visit, I recommend lunch at the Purple Pickle cafe on the ANU campus. Today is a stunning autumn day. Pedalling alongside Sullivans Creek to the seminar, there was a vista of cloudless blue sky, water, ducks and students ambling to lectures. Oxford and Cambridge Universities