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Nanosolar Building 430MW Solar Cell Fab, World’s Largest

Nanosolar, developers of a proprietary high-yield high-throughput process for printing thin-film CIGS solar cells, has started executing on its plan to build a volume cell production factory with a total annual cell output of 430MW—approximately 200 million cells per year—and an advanced panel assembly factory designed to produce more than one million solar panels per year.

Thin-film solar cells based on CIGS (Cu(In,Ga)Se2) absorbers are among the leading devices which are expected to lower the costs for photovoltaic energy conversion.

Presently in pilot production in its Palo Alto, California facility, Nanosolar announced that it has started ordering volume production equipment for what is going to be the world’s largest solar cell manufacturing factory. The company also announced today that its first cell fab will be located in the San Francisco Bay area and that its first panel fab—for a broad array of novel product form factors using advanced processes—is expected to be located in Berlin, Germany.

Thin-film printing overcomes the complexity, high cost, and yield and scalability limitations associated with vacuum-based processes. Nanosolar’s technology enables low-cost, high-yield production previously unattainable. This allows us to produce cells very inexpensively and assemble them into panels that are comparable in efficiency to that of high-volume silicon based PV panels.

—Chris Eberspacher, Nanosolar’s head of technology

Given the square meter economics of solar, high-throughput high-yield processes have to be used to succeed in this industry. With Nanosolar’s printing process, the fully-loaded cell cost—including materials, consumables, energy, labor, facility, and capital—is less than the depreciation expense alone that vacuum thin-film companies have to pay for the equipment that produces their cells.

A factory of this capacity would cost more than one billion dollars to build if one used conventional solar technology. Given the distinctly superior capital efficiency of our unique process technology, we can achieve this scale with a lot less capital and as a startup company.

—Werner Dumanski, Nanosolar’s head of manufacturing

Nanosolar has created an ink of nanoparticles in which the proper ratio of elements is locked-in to the ink (by virtue the particles being mixed in the right overall amounts), allowing the printing of this ink across virtually any size of a substrate.

Using the ink, the company’s production technologies print or solution-coat the semiconductor of an efficient CIGS with high quality, yield, materials utilization, and throughput.

The printed cells consist of a three-dimensional array of nanostructures embedded in a polymer layer with differential electron affinity relative to the nanostructures, sandwiched between two electrodes.

The company also announced it has completed a $75-million Series C financing round. In conjunction with government factory subsidies recently secured, this brings its total cash position (including non-debt cash equivalents) to just above $100 million.

Comments

t

I read elsewhere at the Oil Drum that this process will produce cells at 1/5 the current cost with the same efficiency.

Can anyone hazard an educated guess as to how that would translate into a final installed cost of a KWH?

Could this process cut the cost of solar electricity in half, day? If so, it sounds like we would be well on the road to a solar economy.


Right now, the primary focus seems to be on coming up with liquid alternatives to oil. I think this is a dead end, considering capacity, energy return issues, and global warming. A few more breakthroughs and maybe we can call the whole thing off, the liquid energy economy, that is. When push comes to shove, those who don't care about global warming will be pushing coal as the way to maintain what we like to call the American Way of Life.

Cervus

T: Let me know when we have a battery that can give me a 300+ mile range, charge up in five minutes, and not cost $10,000 to replace when it wears out. Until then, nothing can beat the energy density and convenience of liquid fuels.

What solar cells can't do is produce electricity when the sun isn't shining. Ergo, barring some miracle in massive energy storage, we will still need coal plants for nighttime generation at the very least.

IMO, we need to make the most of presently viable technolgies rather than hope for some breakthrough that may not happen. Yes, R&D should continue. But I'd rather avoid shortages in the meantime.

Neil

t: While I agree that the oil is not the way of the future I don't think we are completely wasting our time by looking for liquid alternatives as long as they are at least carbon neutral. After all, the non-liquid energy carrier alternatives for transportation (electricity and hydrogen) both require more technological advances (especially hydrogen) I am a firm believer that almost all research has value since the value is almost never in the area that you intended in the first place.

Personally I can't wait to plaster my house with solar cells ... then I just have to wait for the rain to stop. Can I get small scale hydro from my downspouts? :)

t

Cervus

I'm sure I won't need to let you know because you will learn it here first. I'm just saying these solar plans give me cause for hope. I think it is clear we cannot maintain our current lifestyle and needs for speed, range, and ubiquity with things like biofuels.

I don't think there is any answer that will let us continue business as usual. We will transition to alternatives, which will include solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear. We have already hit a deficit as far as worldwide corn production. A significant contributor to that deficit is ethanol, even thought it supplies a miniscule part of our energy needs. We still need to do a lot of research on cellulosic ethanol. But it won't be a free lunch either. How we produce all that ethanol and not destroy the soil is an open question.

You want a 300 mile range. Well, maybe we will have to compromise some our wants given the realities of liquid fuels, including the conversion of coal to liquid. If I have to have a 150 mile range, a maximum speed to 100k, and have to wait considerably longer than 5 minutes, then it is worth it to me if we can avoid what is rapidly becoming a coal based energy system.

Biofuels may be part of the mix but they will be a very small part. The only way to continue our liquid energy transportation system as we know it is to use things like oil sands, oil shale, and coal to liquid. You probably find that tradeoff acceptable because you don't think global warming is much to worry about.

We are desperate to find ways to continue what Kunstler calls "easy motoring" into the indefinite future. We are desperate because we cannot conceive of another way of life -- one that is not so totally dependent upon the automobile, but not just the automobile, a large, luxurious, vehicle with energy use as no object.

We want what we want and damn the consequences.

Roger Pham

Cervus,
A123 lithium battery is pretty promising so far. You only need a PHEV with electrical range of 50 mi or so, good for one or two day of commute. For longer driving, just use the gas engine. You don't need 300mi battery electric range.
Solar cell produces the most electricity in hot, bright days, which will be great to keep your house cool, and the factory and offices running. Excess solar electricity and concentrated solar heat of ~800-1000 degrees C can be used to produce hydrogen via high-temp solid oxide electrolysis (at a plant, not at your home) Hydrogen can be stored in the cryogenic liquid form at the plant, and distributed in gaseous form in pipeline to end-user facilities. New process of H2 electrolysis involving the energy from high-temp heat can cut the electricity used in hydrolysis in half, thus doubling hydrogen production efficiency, and promise to produce hydrogen at the cost of gasoline.

How to drive using Hydrogen? Use car (ICE-electric hybrid with tank-to-wheel of ~45% efficiency on hydrogen) that can run on both gasoline and hydrogen, or methane (renewable fuel) and hydrogen. Range on hydrogen need not be over 100mi, since you only use hydrogen for local driving or daily commute. For longer range, fill the car up with gasoline or methane gas in the same tank, and you can go 3-4 times as far. Or if Honda and GM can live up to their hydrogen fuelcell promise, expect fuelcell cars in less than 5-10 years.

John W.

Hey t, I very much appreciate your outlook in your last post and also hope for electric infrastructure powered by efficient solar/wind one day, and we are on the way steadily, as this article shows, plus we have things like Raser motor technology, better controllers & electronics, better batteries all the time, the SunBall Solar Appliance, etc, etc.

But just one small comment about us becoming so dependant on coal: today's coal plants have state of the art technology and are producing electricity very cleanly, relatively speaking, nothing at all the way people normally think when they hear the word "coal." (not that I want us to keep using it indefinately, but it has and is getting a lot better)

Ender

Cervus - "T: Let me know when we have a battery that can give me a 300+ mile range, charge up in five minutes, and not cost $10,000 to replace when it wears out. Until then, nothing can beat the energy density and convenience of liquid fuels."

However we are finding that the price of this energy density and convenience may well be the Earth. The price of this could be global climate change and it may not be a price that you will pay - that could fall to others which makes our flagrant use of it even more culpible.

"What solar cells can't do is produce electricity when the sun isn't shining. Ergo, barring some miracle in massive energy storage, we will still need coal plants for nighttime generation at the very least."

Most of the power is not needed at night. Daytime peak power demand is often 60% more than nightime off-peak. Also we make very little effort to conserve this energy so our use of it is 40% or 50% higher than we could really do if we tried. Wind blows at night and there is no reason why gases (hydrogen) cannot be made from renewable energy to store and use. The same gases can be made from coal avoiding all the heavily polluting burning of coal. With greater penetration of BEVs and PHEVS their batteries can be used as a vast storage resource further reducing the requirement for 'backup' generators. There is no requirement to totally eliminate fossil fuels - just reduce and change their use to less than 30%.

MIcah

I would take 75 MPH & 75 mile range.

Cervus

As far as solar is concerned, there's also Stirling Energy Systems to consider.

Lots of direct responses here.

t: My primary focus is energy independence. To that end, I support wind, solar, TDP, nukes, xTL, biodiesel, butanol, OCS offshore oil drilling, coal, oil shale, anything. Climate is a very distant concern, since I've found evidence that the role of CO2 in climate forcings has been overstated. As Dr. Pielke says, "The primary focus on carbon dioxide inappropriately deemphasizes the first order importance of the other climate system heat system forcings (both cooling and warming forcings), as well as does not address the spatially complex, and incompletely understood actual pattern of global climate system heat changes."

I have my own hopes in terms of biofuels, namely in butanol and the vast potential in algal oils. But as I stated above, I'm not going to depend on quick viability. But until that day, Coal-to-Liquids/xTL is fine.

I don't see anything wrong with the American lifestyle, myself. The only way we're going to get these alternative energy sources is if we're wealthy enough to afford the R&D and investments in infrastructure changes (I'm talking private investment, here). Indeed, many of the advances in battery technology we've had the past ten years has been to support the increase in consumer electronics. Cell phones, laptops, iPods, have contributed to these advances because consumers want longer battery life.

Wanting what we want has positive effects as well.

Roger: I saw that article in SciAm. If they can find enough investment to make it work, more power to them.

Ender: However we are finding that the price of this energy density and convenience may well be the Earth.

Predictions of Doom like this are why I've distanced myself from the enivironmentalist movement. For the past 40 years there's been a lot of crying wolf for problems that have not materialized. Frankly, it's as much in our interest to prevent another Ice Age, so I'd rather err on the warm side. The IPCC itself has declined to study any potential postive effects from climate change, so that makes its conclusions suspect.

Whether humans are the cause or not, the climate changes. We either adapt or suffer. And humans are very adaptable.

Micah

PVs are approx 70% of the cost a home solar system so a 1/5 cut in the price would result in a 56% drop in the price of solar systems. This probably won't happen at first as Nanosolar will price at demand.

Joseph Willemssen

Ergo, barring some miracle in massive energy storage, we will still need coal plants for nighttime generation at the very least.

Wind stops blowing at night? Rivers stop flowing? Waves stop... waving? Geothermal stops being hot?

Floatplane

Reflections on some other comments:

Need for nighttime power: when there is excess electric capacity, Hydropower stations sometimes consume electricity from other sources to pump water uphill, so that they can release it later when hydro capacity is needed. Others have listed other storage techniques, plus diversity is a good thing. The continetal US spans over 45 degrees of longitude, that gives possibilities of long-distance transmission to increase hours of peak availability.

Long distance eletric vehicle: Why not fit each rest area or roadside restuarant with electric recharging stations that can rapid charge your 200 mile vehicle for long distance travellers. That's 3 hours travel time, which is a much as I want to do without stretching my legs.

Roger Pham

Long distance electric vehicle won't become practical until the price will come way down, otherwise, you'll be investing too much on your vehicle's price while other options would be more economical. (PHEV, hydrogen/methane vehicle). For every BEV, you have enough raw material to make 20 HEV, and what's limiting HEV production right now is the availability of the battery pack.

t

Cervus. I know you don't believe in global warming, so I'm not surprised anything goes with you. The global warming issue wasn't generated by what you call the environmental movement. You found a scientist who supports your views. As I've suggested before, go over to the real experts at realclimate.org. There you will find real climate scientiests who can entertain your theories in as much depth as you would like.

sjc

If the past is an indicator, do not look for dramatic price reductions. Thin film silicon panels cost less to manufacture, but sell for about the same price per watt as wafer type panels. Some of that price is due to subsidies, some of it is to recover the development costs and some it is to fund future expansions.
They did have longevity problems with the TCO layers in the CIGS designs. The transparent zinc and tin oxide coatings did not last. If they have overcome this problem then they are on their way to competing. The fact that they raised this kind of capital is a good indicator that they did.

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