For years solar power has been held up as the great bright hope of the renewable energy movement, with advocates insisting that photovoltaic solar panels have the potential to solve the world's energy crisis and underpin a shift towards on site microgeneration of electricity.
But despite no little success in recent years photovoltaic solar panels have struggled to break into the mainstream. Countless firms have tried them and they are becoming an increasingly common sight on the nation's roofs, but for many they remain too expensive, too heavy, too ugly, too inefficient and too reliant on the changing weather. The solar revolution has stalled on the grounds that the technology simply is not good enough, and what's more the glare from the panels annoys the neighbours.
But now German company Sulfurcell thinks it has the answer, and last month a group of venture capitalists led by the Masdar Clean Tech Fund LP invested around $10m in funding to help it further the development of its innovative solar panels.
Currently most photovoltaic solar panels use crystalline silicon wafers, but these have been criticised for being both too expensive and inefficient in temperate climates. Sulfurcell claims that CIS tackles these problems as it boasts significantly better absorption properties and can deliver a much higher electricity yield. This means the CIS layer can be just one percent of the thickness of traditional silicon wafers and still generate higher yields.
"The CIS layer is deposited directly onto [ordinary window] glass and can deliver as effective absorption coefficient from a two micron wide layer as you get from a 200 micron wide silicon layer," he said. "It means it is easier to produce, has less material needs and fewer manufacturing process steps so costs much less to manufacture [than traditional panels]"
He added that Sulfurcell's panels were already 20 percent more cost effective than the average solar module and predicted that as the company invests its recent venture capital injection in scaling up its manufacturing capabilities it will exploit economies of scale that allow it to undercut traditional panels by as much as 50 percent.
The company - which has reportedly raised $32m in venture backing since its launch in 2001 - has also claimed it can outperform conventional modules, even at elevated temperatures or under partial shading.
But, according to Meyer it is the low cost of manufacturing the new panels that will prove their biggest competitive differentiator. "To make your money back on a solar panel in German conditions at the moment can take around ten years," he said. "We have the potential to reduce production costs and prices and make that return on investment period far shorter."
He added that the anthracite-coloured design of the new modules also gave them an edge over their rather ugly metallic-looking rivals, particularly with many corporate customers keen to incorporate solar panels into their office facades. "The modules are different technically and they have a design that is attractive to customers," said Meyer. "We are seeing a lot of interest from wholesellers."
Meyer is convinced that with other companies also making progress with CIS-based solar panels the new technology has the ability to revolutionise the solar energy industry and make the panels far more affordable for customers. With energy prices continuing to climb both business leaders and home owners will be hoping that he is soon proved right.
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