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First Solar: Quest for the $1 Watt

Within five years, this company’s thin-film solar cells could compete with coal

11 min read
photo of photovoltaic cell panels
Photo: Gehrlicher Solar

It’s easy to make a small pile of money off photovoltaic cells but very hard to make a big one. The reason is one of the most fundamental in free-market economics: the larger the market you aim for, the more competitors you’ll have to face.

If you just want to power a billion-dollar space probe, almost any price per watt is acceptable. If you are selling to lonely farmhouses, you just have to charge less than the cost of running a power line to the boondocks. In some parts of the world, competing with grid electricity itself may be an easy game during peak consumption hours. But if you want the off-peak market, you’ll have to price your cells at about US $1 per watt. That price is called grid parity, and it’s the holy grail of the photovoltaic industry. At least 80 firms around the world, from Austin to Osaka, are in the chase.

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Video Friday: Liquid Metal Bubble Actuator

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
A close-up photograph of small bubbles on a surface of liquid metal

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON
RoboCup 2023: 4–10 July 2023, BORDEAUX, FRANCE
RSS 2023: 10–14 July 2023, DAEGU, KOREA
IEEE RO-MAN 2023: 28–31 August 2023, BUSAN, KOREA

Enjoy today’s videos!

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NYU Spearheads Project to Help Chemical Industry Go Green

NYU leads multi-year project to reduce carbon emissions in chemical manufacturing

5 min read
Renewable energy
NYU Tandon School of Engineering

A team at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering is playing a key role in forging a collaboration involving over a dozen US universities and national laboratories aimed at sparking — literally — a fundamental change in how the US chemical industry operates.

The goal is to address the most daunting task looming over the industry: how to make industrial chemistry — especially petrochemistry — greener and more sustainable, partly to meet the escalating demands of greenhouse emission regulations. The nascent, multi-institutional effort will be called “Decarbonizing Chemical Manufacturing Using Sustainable Electrification," or DC-MUSE.

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