It appears as though the trend for residential solar panel system uptake will continue with Energex estimated a whopping 1280 Mwatts of solar electricity on its network by 2021 of which the most is yet to be installed.
The vast majority of existing solar power installations in Brisbane utlise the ‘add on’ discrete solar panels we are now so familiar with seeing on Brisbane roof tops. These installations are relatively straight forward and relatively inexpensive as a result of the global explosion of manufacturing, primarily from China, of low cost solar panels. Wholesale pricing on Chinese solar panels as of September 2013 can be as low as US$0.50 per watt, meaning suppliers of ‘low end’ solar systems can probably ‘land’ into Brisbane solar panels by the container load at around the mid US$0.60 per watt level. This, in part, explains why 5 Kwatt solar systems are being marketed in Brisbane for under $6000, a far cry from a few years ago when the same system might go for $12,000.
Whilst the current methods of installing discrete solar panels on roof tops is efficient and offers reasonably good return on investments and payback periods of 4 to 5 years in many instances, the future for solar panels may look very different within the next five to ten years. Over the next few weeks we will look at some of these fascinating solar developments.
Emergence of Thin Film ‘Orgainic Photo Voltaic’ Solar Cells
Based on excellent work by the (in our opinion) much underrated CSIRO organic photovoltaics (O.P.V) could well be the next generation of solar ‘panels’ we see.
OPV’s are essentially thin film solar cells made from plastic. Because of their polymer construction they are light weigh and very flexible and cost effective to produce. This means OPV technology lends itself to a new generation of ” integrated building’ solar cells, where, for example, the technology can be incorporated in roofing panels, roofing tiles, windows, skylights and possibly even wall structures meaning that the potential for homes to generate their own electricity could be far greater than only roof mounted discrete solar panels.
OPV’s are relatively inexpensive to manufacture but the is counter balanced by their relatively low efficiency – around 4 to 6 percent, meaning that 1metre squared of an OPV might produce around 60 watts under bright sunlight as opposed to a reasonably ‘standard’ mono-crystalline silicon based solar panel (used widely throughout Brisbane) that could produce around 160 watts under the same conditions (16 percent efficiency).
The applications for OPV’s are potentially huge and it would be great to see the commercialisation of this technology here in Australia. Below is a very inspiring video featuring David Jones the Project Coordinator for the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) which includes the following organisations and companies; CSIRO, Bluescope Steel, University of Melbourne, Monash University, Innovia Films and Securency Limited.