Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wow! $1/Watt Solar Panels!

One of the limiting factors on photovoltaics has been the cost. Most solar panels cost about $4 per watt (or more) for just the panel. Nanosolar claims to have shipped their first solar panels using a new process "which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt...." If so, they have crossed the line. Where I live, partly because hydropower makes electricity so cheap, solar panels have to cost $2/watt to be equal to what I can get from Idaho Power.

If Nanosolar can actually sell photovoltaics at $1/watt--and assuming that they have a lifetime equivalent to other photovoltaics of 25-30 years--then solar will rapidly replace most other energy sources in the United States. It would even make nuclear power questionable, I suspect. Not only are we talking about something that will render coal, oil, and even hydropower obsolete, but it also means that pure electric cars start to look viable.

Chevrolet's Volt concept car, for example, is a hybrid--but a rather interesting twist on the hybrid. The theory is this: "Seventy-eight percent of commuters drive 40 miles or less to and from work." The Volt is intended to carry enough of a charge that most people can plug it in at home every night, and never have the gasoline engine run. Also, unlike other hybrids, where the gasoline engine both recharges the batteries and directly drives the wheels, the Chevy Volt's engine only recharges the batteries:
Substituting an electric generator for plug-in hybrids' internal-combustion engine simplifies the engineering process because it doesn't require managing multiple power sources, according to Posawatz, and it cuts costs by eliminating a mechanical transmission.

While a hybrid drive train is more energy efficient than the Volt's, the new car will get about 50 mpg when the generator is on.
Because electricity is currently so cheap, in commute mode, the cost is about 1/5th that of gasoline. Obviously, at $1/watt for photovoltaics, this might be even cheaper. And because the plan is to have it recharge in about six hours from a 110 VAC outlet, it is a bit more mass market than the Tesla Motors vehicle, which takes either 33 hours to recharge--or a special, 220 volt, 70 amp circuit to recharge in 3.5 hours.

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