Making Solar "Wallpaper" Cheaper, More Efficient

Organic solar panels show promise for decorative indoor use, while inorganic ones offer potential for cheap, high performance production

1 min read
Making Solar "Wallpaper" Cheaper, More Efficient
Photo: Antti Veijola

I’m sure that there are tons of reasons why solar panels aren’t absolutely everywhere. Expense, aesthetics, and so forth. But really, we should have them wherever light is, shouldn’t we? No reason not to harvest all of that energy, right? VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a beautiful, flexible, and entirely recyclable type of organic solar panel that can be mass-produced by printing it on film so that it can be as ubiquitous as wallpaper, and look like it, too.

VTT’s organic solar films are just 0.2mm thick, and they come out of a roll-to-roll printing process at 100 meters every minute complete with polymer light collecting layers and electrodes sandwiched inside plastic substrates and films. Graphics can be printed on top as with the leaves in the pictures above and below; one square meter of film works out to be about 200 of these functional leaves, producing 10.4 watts of power (3.2 amps), at least if you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean.

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While organic solar panels are certainly flexible and lovely to look at, they tend to be more expensive and less efficient than inorganic solar panels, which are generally made from silicon. By using perovskite instead, it’s possible to make an inorganic solar cell that performs five times better than an organic one, while costing ten times less in materials. The tricky part is figuring out a way to toss perovskite into the roll-to-roll printing process to manufacture inorganic cells efficiently, and that’s what VTT is working on next.

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How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid

The rules of the Internet can also balance electricity supply and demand

13 min read
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How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid
Dan Page
DarkBlue1

Bad things happen when demand outstrips supply. We learned that lesson too well at the start of the pandemic, when demand for toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, masks, and ventilators outstripped the available supply. Today, chip shortages continue to disrupt the consumer electronics, automobile, and other sectors. Clearly, balancing the supply and demand of goods is critical for a stable, normal, functional society.

That need for balance is true of electric power grids, too. We got a heartrending reminder of this fact in February 2021, when Texas experienced an unprecedented and deadly winter freeze. Spiking demand for electric heat collided with supply problems created by frozen natural-gas equipment and below-average wind-power production. The resulting imbalance left more than 2 million households without power for days, caused at least 210 deaths, and led to economic losses of up to US $130 billion.

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