Printed solar panels: Fast, cheap renewable energy

Researchers at Australia’s University of Newcastle have learned how to 3D-print cheap solar panels quickly. At a cost of about $10 per square meter (about a yard), the panels represent the fastest and, perhaps, cheapest form of renewable power so far.

Using a water-based electronic ink containing semiconductor materials, the process layers solar panels’ components onto transparent sheets as thin as paper. The sheets can be rolled up for transport or storage and attached to a surface using hook-and-eye strips.

The new panels are proving to be more sensitive to dim light than many other versions of solar panels, enabling them to deliver more power longer during the day. The panels even can squeeze a little electricity from moonlight.

The inventors say that, at commercial scale, 10 of their printers could turn out enough kilometers of solar panels in a day to light 1,000 homes. Eventually, they hope to be able to paint solar “panels” directly onto roofs and walls.

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