Solar panel manufacturing has benefited from economies of scale in the race to lower the costs, following an impressive learning curve (see BNEF curve). But will the future bring the cheapest solar panels, being printed where needed from a simple and cheap device?
This is already happening in manufacturing, as described brilliantly by Chris Anderson in Makers. With technology already available for printing solar cells on paper, innovation improving efficiency and durability, is set to revolutionize solar panel manufacturing. Centralized production would be complemented by local micro-manufacturing.
Solar photovoltaics is today the best example/solution for democratization of power generation, as it allows simple and scalable self-consumption. Democratizing also the manufacturing of the panel would take it a step further, boosting solar generation capacity well above the actual double digit yearly growth.
Besides, not only could panels be printed like sheets of paper, but also 3D printed on materials, making building integrated photovoltaics more common and net-zero energy buildings the norm.
Research institutes, like the SCIRO in Australia, have proven cheap panel printing on flexible materials is feasible. Another recent example of this trend is that Masdar has adquired 3D printing technology to drive research on solar panel printing.
Solar panel 3D printing might be in it’s infancy, but I really look forward to printing panels myself…