Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Wider-Used Solar Cells

"Do you want Solar with that?"
  [vote for,

The linked article states that many hopefuls in the solar-cell manufacturing business are likely to go out of business, because their production capacity has exceeded the current demand level, which is causing prices to drop enough to make the business unprofitable.

Obviously, more demand is needed! It could be pointed out that, apparently, the Business Model of all those companies is similar, to produce cells for large power installations. But the desire to install such installations is behind the curve, so to speak, which is why so many of these businesses are finding themselves lurching.

So, what about smaller-scale installations? One advantage (that should be obvious) is that the per-unit price of any smaller-scale production run is usually higher than the per-unit price of larger-scale production runs. So, it should logically follow that by finding markets for selling smaller quantities of solar cells at a time, the sales price of those cells can keep the manufacturers in business.

And, off-hand, I can think of several items that could benefit from having solar cells. For starters, how about every single wall-clock in the world, that currently is powered by an "AA" cell? There should be sufficient surface area of the clock-face to gather more-than-enough power to run such clocks. Even enough power to be stored in a small supercapacitor, for powering the clock in the dark.

Then there is every portable cell-phone on the planet, which, if it had a Star-Trek-style flip-top lid, covered with solar cells, should easily be able to power the phone when it is actually being used to transmit something. (And again, a supercapacitor could be charged up, to provide power for the receiver-circuit, when the phone is in a pocket or handbag.

Some years ago I mentioned small calculators in a separate Idea (linked). Too many have "dual power", as if it isn't possible for modern solar cells alone to power them (false!).

The manufacturers could make stand-alone solar panels, specific for running, say, a lower-power laptop computer (such as the OLPC project, linked). I'm aware that higher-power laptops will be more difficult to power solely by solar.

Anyway, it seems to me that the markets are there. Why aren't they being pursued?

Vernon, Dec 28 2011

Solar Business Shake-Out http://www.reuters....USTRE7BM0AG20111223
As mentioned in the main text. [Vernon, Dec 28 2011]

Calculators Calculators
As mentioned in the main text. Note while a smartphone can fairly easily have a calculator app, at the present time most such apps don't approach the capabilities of the most versatile calculators. [Vernon, Dec 28 2011]

One Laptop Per Child http://en.wikipedia...ne_Laptop_per_Child
A project to make very inexpensive laptops to bring the Digital Age to the impovershed children of the world. However, those laptops still need reliable and long-lasting power.... [Vernon, Dec 28 2011]

Flip-Top Cell Phones http://www.google.c...m=1&ved=0CBoQqwQwAA
Guess what they look like? [Vernon, Dec 28 2011]

Active Lifestyle Solar Products. http://www.rei.com/search?query=solar
I've noticed these at Lowes and other retailers. Some are uncommon, most seem well designed. [reensure, Dec 30 2011]


       I suspect that adding solar cells to very small consumer electronics is not going to be an easy profit for solar-cell companies.   

       However, I do like the idea of making solar cells a part of ordinary items. The problem is finding a way to make it useful to the consumer.   

       What would be nice, if it were possible, would be a system whereby any solar array could be plugged directly into the household electricity supply (via a standard wall socket), so that it could contribute its solar power to the household supply, or to the grid.   

       This would obviously need some electronics on the solar device, and would presumably need a modified electricity supply feed-in and meter to the house.   

       But, if this were done, then someone buying, say, a garden shed or a swing-seat with a canopy might go for the "solarized" version, on the grounds that it would save them electricity and, in theory, could even earn them money if they feed surplus power into the grid.   

       So. [+] for the idea of solarizing other products, even though I don't think self-powered small devices are the best route.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 28 2011

       I still do not understand why every single rooftop in sunny desert climates is not covered with solar panels. Even if the occupants were uninterested in owning solar panels, roofs are optimal for power generation: no endangered species live on roofs, the fact that there is an occupied space below grants rooftop structures a measure of security, and the space could be rented by companies wishing to generate power. The power company itself could rent rooftop in exchange for better electricity rates for the occupant - cheapest of all.   

       So why is it not done? I am at a loss, unless the answer is just that solar is not cost effective without subsidies that are not available for a mass roff-renting endeavor.
bungston, Dec 28 2011

       I think that the answer is indeed that solar is not cost-effective without subsidies that are not available.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 28 2011

       I think they're going about it the wrong way.   

       If, instead of trying to get people to buy huge panels, get them to purchase a concentrator maybe with a cooling system, and a small panel.   

       The small panel burns out after a year or two, but by then there will be cheaper more efficient panels that can use the same concentrator/cooling arrangement already installed.   

       Eventually cells will reach a size/price point for individual usage that makes them competitive with grid energy without having to go through even simple gymnastics.
FlyingToaster, Dec 28 2011

       It would be difficult to construct a concentrator that didn't protrude more than a few inches from a rooftop, and unfortunately, appearance is more important to many people.
mitxela, Dec 29 2011

       I understand that one of the obstacles to take-up is that every roof currently needs its own DC-to-AC adapter in order to feed the grid. It's not enough just to produce an alternating current, you have to produce one that's synched with the alternation of the grid's current. The kit that does this, I've heard, adds a lot to the costs and general maintenance problems of going solar. Now if, in neighbourhoods with a lot of solarized houses, there were a system for sharing this equipment, that might help.   

       For example, what if, in exchange for the one-off cost of doubling-up existing local power lines, you could send direct current as far as the local electricity sub-station, and have it adapted there, together with the solar inputs from all the other solarized houses in the neighbourhood, on the same piece of equipment, to be maintained by the power company?   

       That would replace, let's say, a couple of hundred individual adapters currently being maintained by individual house-holders (or rather, by contractors called in by individual house-holders).
pertinax, Dec 29 2011

       The cost of the invertor and synchroniser is largely arbitrary. As long as it is seen as a major piece of equipment, then it will continue to be expensive. But it could be made as cheaply as, say, a computer UPS.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 29 2011

       The neighborhood-wide cooperation would make sense and could leverage existing neighborhood association to which residents pay compulsory dues. In exchange for use of roof, dues could be cut or waived.
bungston, Dec 29 2011

       One thing that bothers me is that most everyone in the modern world has their very own portable power plant. This is typically referred to as a car or automobile, or more generally a vehicle, and the fact it generates considerable amounts of power is usually not part of the driver's conceptualization. Soon cars will likely be battery powered to a large degree, and these will have to be plugged into the grid whether at home or elsewhere in order to be recharged. Simply make solar panels a part of all cars so they can regularly produce energy simply by being outside. Parking lots could essentially become solar farms, and instead of paying for parking the lots could offer drivers competitive rates for parking there. We could already have cars generating power constantly if we got creative with fuels. Just start by sticking a solar panel of any size on a car. The rule of thumb in North America is the average consumer will want to upgrade to a bigger and better one with every additional purchase.
rcarty, Dec 29 2011

       //But it could be made as cheaply as, say, a computer UPS//   

       Thank you for that nugget, MB. I'm currently planning to whack the panels on at some time in the next two-to-three years (after unsuccessful N-Prize launchers have stopped falling out the sky), and that information may be most useful to me.
pertinax, Dec 30 2011

       I'd be a little careful with the comparison of a grid intertie with a UPS. Many cheap UPSs output a modified sine wave which I doubt the power company would appreciate. In addition, a grid intertie needs circuitry to shut down or disconnect when the utility power fails to prevent your solar system from trying to power the downed power lines. Then again, even if a grid intertie cost twice as much as a UPS per watt, they'd still be more than 10 times cheaper than they are now.
scad mientist, Dec 30 2011

       [rcarty] I don't want solar cells on my car.   

       Solar cells last 25+ years unless they get broken. Most cars don't. A significant number get in accidents. Solar cells have lower strength to weight ratio than steel, so the car will be heavier even if highly integrated. A lot of people park in garages or under trees. Even when the car is in the sun, you're not likely to get all the panels facing the optimal direction.   

       The same arguments also apply to smaller products as well except that they are generally even more disposable and less likely to be in the sun. There are of course some exceptions for devices that will last a long time and use nonrechargable batteries otherwise. I have a 20 year old TI-34 calculator that is pure solar and still going strong. But I doubt there are enough consumer products like that to make a serious impact.   

       I agree with [Bungston]. Rooftops are pretty much the ideal place: unused space and reduces sun damage to the roof.
scad mientist, Dec 30 2011

       ^ I disagree: park it outdoors at work all day, and if you're close enough you drive home for "free". I'm honestly surprised I haven't seen solar electric tonneau covers, even as a demo/showoff thing, for pickups.
FlyingToaster, Dec 30 2011

       Maybe we should put Jimmy Carter to work on this one. Everybody deserves a second chance.   

       // I haven't seen solar electric tonneau covers, even as a demo/showoff thing, for pickups. //   

       I have, years ago, at an annual organic grower's / treehugger festival, but it was a one-off promotion used by a company that builds residential roof-mounted panels. I can't even find a pic of it.
Alterother, Dec 30 2011

       //Everybody deserves a second chance. //   

       <G&S> What, everybody? </G&S>
mouseposture, Dec 30 2011

       Well, maybe not everybody... but Jimmy Carter, certainly.
Alterother, Dec 30 2011

       The hood of the car, trunk lid, and sunroof would be ideal spots for solar panels. These locations make all your points moot, including the absurd point about longevity of the panels, as they could be removed easily and placed on new cars or resused cars.
rcarty, Dec 30 2011

       If you live in a really sunny place, like most of Australia, then solar power is proving not only economical at large scale but the power being fed back into the grid is actually beginning to overwhelm the capacity of the grid infrastructure in those areas where more than about 25% of homes have installed a 2kWh solar power collector system.   

       The government is removing the existing subsidy system but the cost:benefit is still attractive enough to carry demand, it appears.   

       That's with existing commercially available panels operating at about 15-20% efficiency.
infidel, Dec 31 2011

       //power being fed back into the grid is actually beginning to overwhelm the capacity of the grid//   

       I spotted that too, [infidel]. It was one of the most encouraging bits of news I saw all year. It sends a message to governments and power companies, "Wake up and catch up; this is what the public wants!"
pertinax, Dec 31 2011


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