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Uni Newcastle team tests “printed solar” panels in Australian first

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Just days after Tesla announced it was taking orders – and down-payments – for its much-hyped and quite good looking solar roof, an Australian made printed solar innovation that could rival Elon Musk’s power generating tiles has moved one major step closer to commercialisation.

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Professor Paul Dastoor at the printed solar demonstration site. Source: UON

A University of Newcastle team of researchers has this week launched Australia’s first large-scale demonstration of printed solar panels, as part of a final phase of testing and modifications of the potentially ground-breaking renewable energy technology.

The lightweight and flexible solar panels are made by printing an advanced electronic ink onto paper thin, clear laminated sheets using conventional printing presses.

The UON team, led by Professor Paul Dastoor, has pioneered both the electronic ink and the printing process over a period of more than 15 years, and is now testing the printed solar panels across a 100 square meter site at the UON campus.

As you can see in the video below, the printed “panels” are so light that they were tethered to the roof and walls of the demonstration site by velcro strips, and Dastoor explains that the labour involved in its ‘roll-out’ is exactly that…’rolling out’ a long sheet of the laminated material.

The launch of the demonstration project on Monday, he said, brings the technology one step closer to commercialisation and puts Australia at the head of the pack on printed solar.

“This installation brings us closer than we have ever been to making this technology a reality. It will help to determine the lifespan of the material and provide half-hourly feedback on the performance of the system,” said Professor Dastoor.

“There are just three demonstration sites at this scale that we know of anywhere in the world, so Australia has joined quite an elite group of global leaders poised to make this technology a commercial reality.”

Among the key benefits of the technology are that it can be rapidly – and cheaply, at a production cost of less than $10 a square meter – manufactured, enabling accelerated deployment into the marketplace.

“The low-cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting, particularly in the current Australian energy context where we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on base-load power,” Dastoor said.

“No other renewable energy solution can be manufactured as quickly. On our lab-scale printer we can easily produce hundreds of metres of material per day, on a commercial-scale printer this would increase to kilometres.

“If you had just ten of these printers operating around the clock we could print enough material to deliver power to 1000 homes per day,” he said.

The low-cost and portability of the technology also makes it an ideal candidate for roll-out in developing countries and in cases of disaster relief, where power is needed quickly and temporarily.

A further advantage of the UON’s solar ink is that it is “more sensitive” to low levels of light.

Professor Dastoor says that unlike traditional PV panels, the technology produces a more constant power flow in low-light and cloud cover – and can even generate small quantities of energy from moonlight – therefore exposing users to less dips in productivity.

But the UON demonstration site will, for the first time, allow researchers to monitor how large areas of these unique printed solar cells respond under different real-world conditions.

Depending on the outcome, Dastoor also believes that the innovative technology could inspire a new service delivery model, removing key barriers to solar uptake in the community.

“It might operate like a telephone line, where customers choose a service plan based on their usage requirements but do not need to outlay the physical cost of the line installation and associated upkeep. The system is owned, maintained and updated by the provider and customers could scale their plan up or down as their requirements change,” said Professor Dastoor.

“By reinventing the delivery model we remove the need for initial lump sum outlays, overcoming the key barrier to community uptake and ensuring that the science actually ends up on our rooftops,” he said.  

  • trackdaze

    Clever but the LNP have asked that we 3D print coal.

    • Vicki Stevens

      That’s funny, but wouldn’t surprise me if it was true!!

    • Barri Mundee

      Especially brown coal.

  • Chris Fraser

    Looks promising. I wonder how many watts/m2 is produced when Irradiance = 1kW/m2 (standard conditions).

    • George Darroch

      That’s the big question – how efficient is this? If it’s reasonable then you could see it in a huge range of applications.

      I imagine that it’s also very lightweight, which means that it’s applicable in places where either weight or structural considerations are a limiter.

      • elemes

        thin layer solar cells top at 4-5%

    • john

      I have had a wild guess and said about 3%.
      I expect to be proved incorrect i hope.
      However i do expect the figure to rise substantially, and if they get to the 13- 15% range this will be one very sort after technology.

    • Ian

      A quick google search seems to indicate 2.5 to 3 % efficiency. so if solar irradiance 1m2 = 1KW . For 1KW nominal power output you would need 33m2. @$10/m2 cost per KW nominal output = $330/KW .

      Silicon panels have efficiency of about 18% for 1KW nominal capacity these would need 6m2 . The new printed panels will thus need 5.5 times the roof area of silicon ones.

      • infinityPV

        your efficiency guess of 3% is probably right. Making high efficient printed organic solar cells on large scale is very challenging and complex.
        The world records on very small scale (square millimeters) is around 12%. On large scale it might go to 5-6% as can be seen on infinityPV.com

  • solarguy

    I meet Paul back in 2015 when I sold and installed an ET SHW system at his place. He struck me then as a very smart guy and mentioned his work at Newcastle Uni on this technology. I hope it will last in the field long enough to be cost effective, only time will tell. At $10/sqm it’s cheap enough and would be taken up by campers big time.

    • lin

      “and would be taken up by campers big time”
      It may be possible to travel through central Australia in an all electric 4WD in the foreseeable future. Exciting times!

      • john

        I do not think the material will have sufficient efficiency to be able to sustain driving a heavy 4WD, even using the panels that are used in the solar race would not sustain your requirement.

        • lin

          I was thinking more along the line of rolling out a few tens of metres of panels for a couple of hours each day whilst lunching, walking or having a quiet ale in the afternoon, not relying on vehicle mounted panels. This should give you enough kWh for a few hours driving per day.

          • George Darroch

            Perhaps not to power a vehicle, but enough to power a campsite certainly.

          • Steven Gannon

            I’m wondering how an electric vehicle would go through a river crossing. It will happen one day for sure, but the rough tracks would suck more power and further reduce range. Even with some panels you would need a small backup generator for now. Solar caravans are great.

    • infinityPV

      such printed solar cells are already on the market for campers. just google “heli-on solar charger” from infinityPV.

  • Kevin Brown

    There are hundreds of shopping centre car-parks with shade sails around the country that could utilise this product without having to re-engineer supporting structures. The Stafford City Shopping Centre in Brisbane is an ideal candidate. It has a couple of hectares of car-parking with shade sails that run East to West and are ideally oriented North. Check it out on Google Maps.
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/dir/Stafford+City+Shopping+Centre,+Stafford+Road,+Stafford,+Queensland//@-27.4119897,153.0123935,163m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!4m7!1m5!1m1!1s0x6b9157870f487f69:0x13363785eaf117a2!2m2!1d153.0123854!2d-27.4113095!1m0

    • john

      Using conventional panels is the possibly the best outcome there.

      • Kevin Brown

        Conventional panels would require a substantial strengthening of the present shade sail support structure.

  • Hettie

    Might this provide access to rooftop solar for renters?
    It should be possible to desighn an inverter that can be plugged in or unplugged so that renters could take their system with them when they move. That’s a huge extra market right there.

    • Vicki Stevens

      A great concept for renters – they unfortunately are the ones that miss out on energy savings and the right to go green, unless property owners have a heart, or are smart enough to future-proof their buildings/homes.

  • john

    I have no figures but i expect this at the lower end of energy conversion; however as it has a good factor for low light situations i can see an immediate use on the sides of buildings especially several story buildings; typically rented.
    The aspect one has to take into consideration is that the energy conversion efficiency will rise as further development is carried out.
    For instance if this is at say 3%, expect a rise to 9% with further development.
    While that may sound low just consider covering a whole building in the material and then see the effective output.

  • Gnällgubben

    Printed solar panels are very interesting. They are not very efficient but they are dirt cheap and easy to deploy so if you have enough space for them you can deploy solar really cheaply. Once mature I think this technology will be used to cover houses, it could be applied right when the building blocks are manufactured and integrated everywhere.
    Solar is cheap already but that’s nothing compared to what we will see in the future.

    • infinityPV

      ssuch printed organic solar cells are already available on the market. have a look on infinityPV.com

  • Richard

    Interesting. It looks ugly, I’m not sure this material would be acceptable plastered all over buildings like bandaids.
    I can’t see where it might be useful in its current form. A roll of PV might be cool but you still have to attach it to structures in some way.

    More questions than answers over this development

  • handbaskets’r’us

    Elon says the wiring in his pv roofs is the brainbuster.
    I’m just wondering about how you wire it all up without getting zapped.
    In the dark maybe?
    Great tech breakthrough tho. -All hail!

  • ROBERT NEILL

    In a modern economy investors would be killing each other to commercialize this. Australias truly a land based fuedal economy. Got a $ trillion to mske nothing, inflate land prices and cripple the economy?? Sure .. no problem. Invest in high tech manufacturing.. err next!!