Engineer pioneers cheap solar energy

An engineer in the US has developed solar panels that can produce electricity for roughly the same cost as using nuclear energy or fossil fuels.

Professor Walajabad Sampath, of Colorado State University, said his devices, which use a cheaper coating and more efficient manufacturing process than traditional panels, could sell for half the price homeowners usually pay.

Colorado-based firm AVA Solar, formed earlier this year by Professor Sampath and two of his colleagues, plans to start mass production next year.

The solar panels use a glass coating with a cadmium telluride thin film instead of costly crystalline silicon, and have an energy conversion efficiency of between 11% and 13%.

Professor Sampath has also developed an automated manufacturing process which he said produces the panels more quickly and efficiently than current methods with only about 2% waste.

Professor Sampath said: “This technology offers a significant improvement in capital and labour productivity and overall manufacturing efficiency.”

He added: “”The key to expanding the US market is to lower manufacturing costs so more people can afford the technology.”

AVA Solar bosses said electricity can be produced at less than $1 (49p) per watt, and the cost to consumers could be as low as $2 per watt – a price that would be competitive with the cost of power from the electrical grid in many parts of the world.

Pascal Noronha, president and chief executive officer of AVA Solar, said: “The world has an energy problem.

“The time is right to solve this problem with a green solution, especially given that electricity consumption is going to grow astronomically.”

Larry Edward Penley, president of Colorado State University, said: “Professor Sampath’s technology has global reach and local impact, which is part of our strategic mission at Colorado State University. He is solving a huge global challenge.”

Kate Martin

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