Recent innovations in solar industry manufacturing processes have led to the development of super-thin silicon wafters, which could rapidly lower the cost of solar cells.
Many solar panels include silicon wafers that are first made in blocks and then cut up into much smaller pieces for solar panels. Cutting the silicon wastes a substantial percentage of the material during the cutting process. This adds considerable cost to the whole manufacturing process.
Now, U.S. solar startup Twin Creeks Technologies has revealed a new process that can make wafers at less than a tenth of the thickness of previous wafers. This innovation is said to hugely reduce the amount of silicon and other materials used, so should cut the cost per watt of solar in half, to around 40 cents per watt.
Twin Creeks Technologies is not going to produce solar panels itself, rather their business is going to be selling the technology to solar manufacturers, “helping solar manufacturers produce modules that compete with grid power and open up new markets for chip makers.”
What’s more, Twin Creeks isn’t the only game in town. Ampulse Corporation, in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has also developed an innovative process, that eliminates the cutting process altogether. Their process grows silicon into a foil mold instead of being cut back from a block, allowing for super-thin wafers to be built rather than cut.
While these new innovations are very promising, they don’t include the whole cost of producing solar panels. There are many other factors. However, there seems little doubt that the cost of solar will continue of decline dramatically over coming years. Innovations will continue to occur is different areas of production, including all important breakthroughs in battery storage for intermittent, renewable energy.
This should allow solar power to begin to compete strongly with fossil fuels, and eventually to challenge their dominance – perhaps much sooner than most people think.
Image: Twin Creeks Technologies