Elon Musk’s Solar Roofs Have Some Serious (and Seriously Cheap) Competition

A team of researchers in Australia has created a solution that could make solar energy far more accessible.

Written by Kevin J. Ryan and published in INC the 19th of May 2017

While Tesla enters the order-taking stage for its new solar roofs, which cost about the same as regular roofs, scientists in Australia think they’ve found an even cheaper solution: 2-D printed solar panels.

A team of researchers at the University of Newcastle is in the testing phase for the new invention. According to Mashable, the bendable solar panels are printed on plastic film that’s less than 0.1 millimeter thick.

The panels are made mostly of polyethylene terephthalate, the material used to create soft drink bottles. That also means they’re recyclable, so old panels can be melted down and formed into new ones.

Paul Dastoor, the researcher leading the project, hopes the panels can eventually cost as little as about $7.50 per square meter. By comparison, Tesla’s solar roofs cost around $235 per square meter.

Printed-solar-closeup-side-showing-thinness-and-mount_213286.jpg
CREDIT: Courtesy University of Newcastle

 

While the team hasn’t yet said how efficient the panels are overall, Dastoor tells Mashable that they outperform traditional photovoltaic solar panels in low light. One advantage the panels have is that they can be placed on a roof that faces any direction, instead of needing to be strategically pointed toward the sun.

The first few solar panels have been installed as a test, and the company will observe how well they perform in various weather conditions.

Traditional solar panels are bulky and unattractive, and usually cost upwards of $15,000 to install. Tesla, which last year completed its acquisition of SolarCity, is one company looking to find an alternative to that. Its solar roofs look like regular roofs and harvest energy about as efficiently as solar panels.

Should the printed panels survive testing and reach consumers, they’d likely be far cheaper than what’s already on the market. But they still wouldn’t solve the aesthetic issue that tends to be a point of resistance with many customers. Though less of an eyesore, the panels would still blanket a roof, which could still be a turnoff for homeowners who resist traditional panels for similar reasons.

Even so, a cheaper alternative is a welcome development in the industry. While solar energy is now cheaper than nonrenewable energy in much of the U.S., it still accounts for only 1 percent of the country’s energy consumption.

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