Printable Solar Panels / Cells – A Primer.

Printable Solar Panels – at some point it may be possible to use a simple desktop inkjet printer to print your own solar cells. We’re a while off that yet, but with great advancements in the technology over the last couple of years, let’s take a look at what the future holds for printed solar cells!

Printable Solar Panels

Printable Solar Panels - University of Newcastle
Printed Solar Cells – University of Newcastle (source: abc.net.au via University of Newcastle)

We wrote last week about the University of Newcastle and their foray into printed solar cells – today we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into the situation and see where we can expect this technology to go in the next few years. 

The University of Newcastle are reporting that their latest tests in Newcastle brings them “about two years” away from launching their product onto the commercial solar market. Leading the charge has been University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor, who created the electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels.

The process is According to the ABC, semi-conducting ink is printed on a transparent plastic sheet for the first layer, and then layers are printed on top of the other, until the cells are about 200 microns thick. For reference, human hair is around 50 microns. After that, a “top contact layer” is done again, reel-to-reel, using a technique known as sputter coating, according to Professor Dastoor.

They estimate the cost of their modules at less than $10 per square metre which is extremely cheap – the main problems are the efficiency of the printed solar panels and ensuring there’s enough space for them as it’ll take quite a lot of room on a roof. They use a lot of plastic to manufacture as well so looking at ways to recycle the waste of printed solar cells is extremely important. For that reason, in six months Professor Dastoor and his team will pull the printed solar cells off the Melbourne roof they’re currently on and investigate ways to minimise environmental waste. 

 

 

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Solar Tarp – foldable, portable solar power.

California based Lipomi Research Group are working on creating a solar tarp – which would have myriad uses for society. Let’s learn more about how these upgraded solar panels could help parts of the world where they don’t have access to regular electricity – and some of the technological challenges they’re facing trying to complete the project.

About the Solar Tarp technology

Prototype Solar Tarp Sample - University of California
Prototype Solar Tarp Sample – University of California (source: theconversation.com)

The Lipomi Research Group are focused on “identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not”.  They’ve been tinkering with perovskite solar cells, which are 1/1000 the thickness of a silicon layer in a solar panel. 

Darren Lipomi of the Lipomi Group, who is also a Professor of Nanoengineering at the University of California, said that their goal is to create flexible solar panels which are as efficient as conventional silicon but don’t have some of the drawbacks of it.

The goal is to develop flexible solar panels which are thin, lightweight, and bendable. Lipomi is calling their idea a ‘solar tarp’ – which refers to a solar panel which can be expanded to the ‘size of a room’, but balled up to the size of a grapefruit when not in use. The issues here are finding a molecular structure to make the solar panels stretchable and tough – this involves replacing the silicon semiconductors with materials such as perovskite. 

They’re also taking a look at polymer semiconductors / organic semiconductors (based on carbon, and used in place of perovskites or silicon in a solar cell). These aren’t as efficient, but are far more flexible and extremely durable.

According to The Conversation, the sunlight that hits the earth in a single hour contains more energy than the whole planet uses in an entire year – so there’s plenty more work to do on improving how we utilise the sun! We’ll keep an eye on the solar tarp project and let you know when it reaches the next stage.

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Portable solar panels camping – fridges, reviews

Portable solar panels camping – if you’re thinking about a portable solar panel purchase for your campsite – to power laptops, charge phones, or even run a small fridge – you’re on the right article! Let’s take a look at the three main styles of portable solar panel and which you should choose.

Portable Solar Panels Camping

You have three main choices with regards to portable solar panels – and your choice depends on your unique circumstances.

Portable Folding Panels – the best option if you only camp a few times a year or you’re on a budget. These panels are quite heavy and inflexible, but they’re very simple to move to find a spot in the sun. Unless you’re a pro, we generally recommend starting here. 

Solar Blankets – the mid-range choice. More expensive than portable folding panels but worth the extra investment if you’re a frequent traveller – especially if you’re concerned about space and weight. It’s extremely simple to hang a solar blanket over the hood of your car, over your tent, on a nice sunny rock…

If you are going to have a look at the solar blanket option make sure you pay a little extra for a quality brand as these solar blankets aren’t the cheapest to begin with. If you’re going to invest in them it’s worth your while to get something that will last!

We can recommend the 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS from Redarc. 

Solar panels camping - 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS Redarc
Solar panels camping – 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS (source: REDARC.com.au)

Fixed Panels – for the grey nomad or the frequent traveller, fixed panels have very low setup and are very easy to get working. You do need to park your trailer (or however/wherever you have fixed them) in the right spot to get as much sun as possible – which can be a little annoying. But in terms of performance vs. ease of use, these are the Cadillac of portable solar.

Alternatives for Portable Solar Panels

Although Portable folding panels, solar blankets and fixed panels comprise the bulk of what we’ll recommend for solar camping, there are a couple of caveats we should mention befor eyou go and buy anything.

If you’re not sure how much power you’ll require we can recommend the REDARC Solar calculator selection tool which is a fantastic tool for those planning a getaway!

If you want something simple just to charge a phone or a power bank we recommend giving Solar Paper by YOLK a look.

Any questions or feedback on any of these products? Do you have an issue with your solar powered camp? Please let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to help!

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Maverick by 5B – a prefab, low-cost solar array.

Australian company 5B have launched the Maverick (MAV) portable solar farm – their easily-transported large-scale portable solar farm with a continuous array design. Because of this, a solar farm built with MAV can generate between 180 – 200% more MWh per hectare than fixed tilt or single axis tracking designs. This could be a game changer for farmers, remote communities, film crew, or anyone who needs to use a large amount of power and don’t have grid access. Launched in July this year, the ‘solar farm in a box’ has been gaining traction for anyone looking for portable solar in Australia. 

Maverick Portable Solar Array by 5B
Maverick Portable Solar Array by 5B (source: 5b.com.au)

Maverick Portable Large-Scale Solar Farm

The Maverick is a continuous array, which means DC cables don’t need to be trenched, saving setup time and reducing the potential for any errors when setting up. According to the 5B website, two people are able to roll out a 12kW MAV in ten minutes with ‘standard site vehicles’. Here are some further stats on the MAV:

  • Ground mounted DC solar array of 32 or 40 PV modules.
  • Any 60/72 cell standard framed PV module can be used if you want to choose (they come with Jinko panels by default).
  • Each MAV weighs approximately three tonnes. 
  • MAV is 5m wide and 16m/20m long (32/40 modules) once deployed.
  • Modulates oriented in a concertina shape at 10-degree tilt (electronically configured and ready for integration at site).
  • Simple deployment via a forklift and 2-3 people. As per the 5B tagline – “100 kilowatts fully installed before lunch, and 1 megawatt in a week” – pretty impressive!

They’re modular as well; you can ship four 32-module MAVs in a standard ISO 20 foot container (similar to the Renovagen solar carpet we discussed yesterday)

Click here to download the MAV product brochure. You can also view a video from 5B below which shows how the Maverick solar array works. Have you had any experience with the MAV? How did you find it? Please let us know in the comments. 

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