$1 Dollar a Watt Solar.
For Nanosolar of San Jose, California - and perhaps the rest of us - December 18, 2007 was an historic day. It was the day the company shipped the worldâ€™s lowest-cost solar panel.
The company believes it can be the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at 99 cents per watt.
At that price solar energy becomes less expensive than coal, even when the cost of an entire system is considered. The US Department of Energy says a new coal plant costs about $2.10 per watt plus the cost of fuel and the cost of damaging emissions. There is no fuel cost with solar energy, nor any direct damage to the world.
The crew at Nanosolar must certainly be happy, but should the rest of us dance and cheer?
Be happy but the world is not yet powered by solar, nor will it be anytime soon. Those now pricey coal power plants operate 24/7. Solar power is still reliant on daylight.
Then again a lot of new coal-fired plants wonâ€™t have to be built, and for sunny, but windless, regions photovoltaic solar now becomes a viable choice for low cost renewable energy. Further, for windy areas, but with strong local opposition to wind energy, solar would be an option if land, rooftops or parking lots are available. Nobody protests against solar power plants.
So far nanotechnologies have produced cutting-edge energy products much as predicted. Solar power is now much improved and battery makers have made significant advancements in recent years with nanotech. Extremely powerful, very cheap batteries, or some other low cost energy storage device is needed if solar power is to power the world. Nanotech may do it.
Nanosolar has perfected the much sought after method roll-to-roll printing of nanoparticle CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) semiconductor inks on a thin film foil substrate, which itself becomes one of the two electrodes to carry electric current.
The first megawatt of solar panels is already promised to a solar project in Germany. And the first full year of production is already sold out. But the company is planning up to 430 megawatts of annual production, so panels will eventually be available.
Of this historic first shipment the company will keep the first solar panel; the second is up for auction on eBay: the third will be donated to the Tech Museum in San Jose.
(As of 8:00 AM on December 19, 2007, bidding on the eBay panel was over $10,000)