The Nordic countries have long been at the forefront of renewable technologies and some of the major innovations that have come to us recently have evolved from there. Finland is no exception and researchers who work at the VTT Technical Centre in Faksi have been developing technology that could see more decorative organic solar panels available in the future.
The current state of affairs with solar panels is that we have a limited choice that ranges from sturdy panels through to thin sheets that have a certain amount of pliability. All this limits what they can be used for though recent technological advances may well see things like solar windows come on the market in the near future. If we are going to fully utilize solar panels then we will need more varied ways in which that technology can be delivered.
The Finnish researchers at VTT have combined the latest print technologies with organic solar panels that may well pave the way for cheap mass production offering a fair degree of design freedom that could help to increase the range of areas where solar cells can be used. This includes the inside and outside of buildings, on our vehicles and even powering the gadgets that we carry around with us on a daily basis like mobile phones and tablets.
Imagine not having to charge up your mobile phone every day, or having access to technology in the wilds with just the sun and a solar panel for company. Whilst there are certain problems still to overcome, there’s no doubt that the work at VTT could pave the way to an explosion in the use of solar panels over the next decade or so.
What Are Organic Solar Panels?
Organic Photovoltaic or OPV cells use organic material and have generally been considered less efficient than their silicon counterparts which is why they are generally not used in bigger installations. Researchers have been working hard to improve this efficiency though and recent tests have produced cells that have reached up to 10%, comparable to the least efficient of the silicon cells now in use. While they work the same way as silicon cells in producing electricity there is some dispute over their longevity and whether they will be able to replace that older technology entirely.
The Benefits Of Organic Solar Panels
While they are often accused of being too inefficient, certainly for large scale installations such as the solar panels we see on offices and houses, OPV may well transform the way that we currently use solar energy.
They could open up whole new markets for the use of solar.
They are extremely lightweight and flexible which increases the number of uses that they can have.
- They can be produced in a number of colors and designs
- They can be produced by modern printing processes in a way that is cheap and environmentally friendly
- That means you can produce high volumes at a competitive price which makes it easier for manufacturers to take on the technology
The Future Of Organic Solar Panels
While it’s still in the early stages of development, VTT are now looking to pass onto the next stage where they approach different operators and try to form a manufacturing base for the technology. The researchers believe that the manufacturing process is eminently affordable and the market for printed organic solar panels is beginning to grow. The lifespan of an organic solar panel is around two years which could be seen as more than enough for many of these new applications.
But there are some areas where the technology needs to improve if we are going to benefit from organic solar panels. First of all the efficiency needs to be increased above the maximum of 10% currently available – some cells are no more efficient than 1% which greatly reduces their usefulness. Secondly, the costs of synthesizing the materials need to come down and that may well happen if money is spent and the manufacturing process improved. And finally, the lifetime of the materials probably needs to improve, perhaps to something in the region of ten years.
Whether we will see high efficiency, durable organic solar panels being used on the roofs of houses and businesses in the future will depend on these initial developments and whether overall improvements can be made. But once again the future of solar energy is beginning to look increasingly brighter.
Find out more about solar panels here.