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Plastic Solar Cells

In 2002, a group of U.C. Berkeley chemists discovered a way to make plastic solar cells. Even though the plastic solar cells were far less efficient than standard photovoltaics of the time, the new technology was a breakthrough in affordability, flexibility, and potential to provide wearable electronics.

Because plastic is so flexible, the new technology opened new horizons in solar cell technology. Solar cells were embedded directly into the plastic, where tiny nanorods were dispersed between electrodes. The entire device could potentially be sprayed or painted on clothing or other such material, where it would produce enough electricity to power radios, small computers, and low-power devices. Much more convenient than large, heavy solar panels that require more complex installation. For installation questions ask our solar contractors.

Plastic solar cells have increased in power since 2002, when they produced 0.7 volts at 1.7 percent efficiency. By 2005, they could convert up to 6 percent of absorbed sunlight into energy. A step up, but still lagging behind the 12 percent capacity of traditional panels and even higher range of more advanced systems.

Also in 2005, a research group at the University of Toronto discovered that plastic solar cells could absorb infrared light, or electromagnetic wave frequencies below the visible range. This discovery had the scientific world ringing with the possibility of harnessing electricity using evening and indoor light. Like most solar technology, however, its full potential is yet to be known.

As solar cell technology continues to improve, the future of plastic solar cells looks hopeful. For the time being, however, it lags in efficiency behind larger solar panels made with silicon semiconductors and other, more expensive material. Though the plastic cells can be cheaply manufactured, their lack of efficiency would require large numbers to produce desired effects. In an article titled “Solar Cells: The New Light Fantastic,” Business Week reported that $600 worth of plastic solar cells could power a typical light bulb for 25 years. This is twice the cost of traditional electricity.

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