The Dream: Print-Out Solar Panels That Can Be Stapled to Your Roof

By Andrew Moseman | May 7, 2010 3:19 pm

MITSolarCellWho needs big silicon panels? MIT scientists just coated paper with solar cells, reportedly the first team to ever do that. Vladimir Bulovic, director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Research Center, unveiled them this week, and said the design was being submitted for peer review.

The printed solar cells, which Bulovic showed at a press conference Tuesday, are still in the research phase and are years from being commercialized. However, the technique, in which paper is coated with organic semiconductor material using a process similar to an inkjet printer, is a promising way to lower the weight of solar panels. “If you could use a staple gun to install a solar panel, there could be a lot of value,” Bulovic said [CNN].

Right now the solar cells on paper get just 1 to 2 percent efficiency at converting sunlight to electricity (some cells have achieved 40 percent or more in lab trials). But they carry the advantages of being flexible, and Bulovic says he could potentially use a number of different materials, not just the carbon-based dye used in these first attempts. And they’re tunable:

MIT is focusing much of its effort on quantum dots, or tiny crystals that are only a few nanometers in size. A human hair is about 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers thick. By using different materials and sizes, researchers can fine-tune the colors of light that quantum dots can absorb, a way of isolating good candidates for quantum dot solar cells [CNN].

Bulovic gives the standard warning about new technologies—it could be a decade before it’s ready for commercial development.

And once it is? There’s no telling how it could revolutionize the home solar industry, which currently relies on pricey professional installers to set up panels [Inhabitat].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Sun Catcher Promises Cheaper Solar Power
80beats: Glitter-Sized Solar Cells Could Be Woven into Your Power Tie
80beats: Self-Assembling Solar Panels Use the Vinaigrette Principle

Image: Martin LaMonica at CNET

  • Dennis

    I work in the Solar Industry in California and I am very interested in new technologies. One of the biggest hurdles we face is the area available for solar. A typical home would require a 5kW system to generate enough electricity to offset the home’s energy use. Using the highest efficiency monocrystalline solar panels, a 5 kW system would require approximately 365 sq.ft. of roof space. This doesn’t seem like a lot of space. However, not all of the roof sections on a house are actually good for solar. Solar panels are rated for peak power using a direct sunlight equivalent of 1000 Watts/meter squared. The best year round performance can be obtained by pointing the solar array South (180 degrees) at an angle of 34 degrees (Southern California). If this array would produce 100%, then an East facing roof would produce around 84% and a North facing roof would produce even less. There are also issues with vent pipes and shading from trees which can further reduce the usable space.

    A less expensive solution is a polycrystalline panel that would require around 450 sq. ft. of roof space. This technology can be used on many Southern California homes. Even less expensive than this is the thin film or amorphous solar panel. This technology would require almost 2x as much roof space. You can learn more about solar cells at

    If the paper cells in this article are 2% efficient, they would require approximately 3000 sq. ft. of area in order to power a typical home using a South facing roof. I think the biggest hurdles facing this technology are going to be the improvement of efficiency, the ability to pass the stringent fire rating tests for roofing materials and the ability to handle the harsh environment of a roof top.

  • Warren Emerson

    Consider using some other printing process that is much faster to lay down volumes of printing such as rotogravure.

  • Arun Raj

    impressive. so, how much can the efficiency be build upto?

  • wholesale electronics

    i think that is a good thing for us。

  • Stag

    While the efficency is small enough to be outshone by emplaced solar panels, the flexibility of paper solar wwould allow it to be emplaced in areas that larger panels cannot fit. However, for home installation i do not think that paper solar would be very helpful since you can get a emplaced panel that generates a significant amount more electricity. I’m interested more in unique locations this could be set up, and maybe if it could be made disposable? If disposable solar paper became available it would be very useful for temporary locations: camping, hiking, exploratory outposts, etc. in which initial power systems may take time to set up and can be heavy and cumbersome.

  • WSA

    I once saw a newspaper that, instead of a photograph, had an embedded screen showing video of a story, powered by solar cells within the paper itself. It was amazing.

    No, wait, that was on Harry Potter. Well, maybe someday this could save the newspaper industry.

  • solarpanelsforsale

    How much solar panels would be needed to fulfill the complete electricity requirements of my house?

  • Affordable Solar Panels and Wind Turbines Kits

    Good Thing!
    Now we will be able to add and incorporate solar panels everywhere : in the roads, in the trash baskets, etc. That makes me think of the NEW Moon Solar Panels that can generate electricity with the light of the moon. Have a look at the EnergieVair’s web site for more info.

  • festivals

    Wow! Thank you! I needed to write on my website the like. Can one implement part of this post to my site?

  • Free Solar

    Solar energy companies should all be MCS registered. They should also always provide a cost breakdown and idea of what power you will generate. Make sure that you fully understand the numbers and how solar can work for you.


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