Virtually 100 percent of solar panels installed in Brisbane are based on silicon wafers. The technology has been around since the early 1960’s when silicon started the electronics revolution. Before that time ‘valves’ were used in radio’s and television sets. The early pioneers of silicon technology realised that silicon had some unusual properties. In the field of electronics scientists found that by ‘doping’ the silicon (changing its chemical properties) and applying voltages to differently doped layers of silicon, that useful characteristics like amplification and current control could be generated. This lead to the development of the first diodes and transistors and in the early 1970’s the first I.C’s emerged (integrated circuits) – which gave birth to the computer age and a whole new generation of consumer electronic devices.
In the 1960’s, as the electronic uses of silicon were developed it was also found that when light was shone onto silicon wafers that electrons within that silicon would start to move, creating electric current. This ‘photo-voltaic‘ (p.v.) effect is the heart of how silicon base solar panels work.
Next Generation Solar Panel Development – Organic Photo Voltaic Solar Panels
Organic p.v. cells are being developed by groups like the C.S.I.R.O. and use simple molecules and polymers (image to the right shows a polymer based cell – photo courtesy http://www.sciencedaily.com) to generate electron movement when exposed to visible light. This is an exciting area of solar development because the possibility of producing very low cost solar panels exists with this technology – possibly to the point of reaching parity with environmentally ‘unfriendly’ coal fired electricity production. Silicon based solar panels have declined in price by over 60 percent in the last few years but still struggle to compete with traditional fossil fuel based electricity production. Current efficiencies of organic solar modules are far lower than silicon based p.v. technologies and issues of longevity of the panels using this technology need to be addressed to make them viable. We see the major benefit of this technology as being that is is essentially ‘printable’ – meaning that it can be integrated (potentially) into commonly used building materials used in wall and roofing products so Brisbane homes in the future that use the technology can have ‘solar integration’ as part of their homes building process, rather than a later ‘add-on’ in the form of solar panels installation we currently see in Queensland.