February 16, 2003
Spheral Solar Will Start Production In 2004

The flexible Spheral Solar Power photovoltaic panels will be usable in house construction and will give buildings a blue denim look.

Buildings of the future could be "clothed" in a flexible, power-generating material that looks like denim. The Canadian company developing the material says it can be draped over just about any shape - greatly expanding the number of places where solar power can be generated.

One big advantage that Spheral Solar has with their process is that they can use a lower grade of silicon. They also use less silicon.

There are no rare materials utilized in the manufacturing of Spheral Solar™ products. Silicon supply has already become a problem for wafer-based technologies that all use the same semiconductor silicon waste stream. Silicon wafer based technologies utilize 18-24 tons of silicon per megawatt of solar cells produced. SSP is expected to utilize 9 tons per megawatt. As a result of the continuous improvement plan already underway, SSP silicon utilization could improve to below 2 tons per megawatt. Because of its inherently low gram/watt consumption of silicon and its ability to utilize many grades of silicon, silicon supply is not a major concern for Spheral Solar™ technology.

See this previous post for more on Spheral Solar.

Also see this brief interesting history of how of Spherical Solar Power came to be. What is amazing is how Texas Instruments and Ontario Hydro failed to push to develop this promising technology for many years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 February 16 01:01 PM  Energy Solar

Michael Gersh said at February 16, 2003 4:39 PM:

While Spheral Solar claims a lower cost per unit of energy than older technologies, they say nothing about efficiency improvements. Older analyses have shown that, at current efficiency rates of area needed per unit of energy, the entire insolation of the land mass of the planet would not offer enough energy to replace fossil fuel generation.

While cost/benefit improvements may make certain applications viable, until efficiency of solar/voltaic systems improves greatly, mankind is still stuck with older technologies if we wish to sustain our hard won affluence. Nuclear still offers the only presently viable source of energy that offers an air-pollution free future. Any plan for the future energy needs of mankind must include an energy source that is viable. Unfortunately, the solution offered by Spheral Solar in your post falls far short of the mark. I wonder why you failed to mention this flaw. I know why Spheral Solar did so: they want to sell their product. I wish you would have mentioned in your breathless post that their technology offers no real alternative to fossil fuels for the forseeable future. While it seems that Spheral Solar's product offers a small incremental diminution of our energy requirements, experience shows that incremental price reductions only make way for increased uses for energy.

Randall Parker said at February 16, 2003 8:20 PM:

Michael, The reason I do not push fission nuclear energy is that current generation nuclear plants create materials that are great for refining into nuclear weapons material. Even radiation bombs are worth avoiding. Nuclear proliferation combined with Islamic terrorism are the two greatest threats to civilisation in my opinion (though nanotech replicators may eventually mature into an even greater threat than nukes).

As for the area needed to produce enough energy using photovoltaics: I didn't mention your claimed flaw for photovoltaics because I have read contrary claims. See, for instance, this article:

To put all of this into perspective,[4] a photovoltaic generation station 140 x 140 km in area at an average US location could generate all the electricity needed in the US (2.5 x 1012 kW-h/yr), assuming a system efficiency of 10%, a balance-of-systems efficiency of 81% and a system packing factor of 50%. Thus although the solar resource is dispersed in area, it is ample in reasonably small areas to provide whatever amount of photovoltaic power is required. Obviously, because the Sun does not shine at all times in any one location on Earth, some practical means of energy storage also is needed.

Given that photovoltaics will eventually be able to be incorporated into the surfaces of structures that need to be there for other reasons I don't expect we will have to cover part of Texas with photovoltaic panels to get our electricity.

Of course, electricity is not the means by which we get the bulk of our energy. So the area needed to be covered would have to be larger unless conversion efficiency is increased. However, as I've previously posted, a promising advance has recently been made along those lines.

I think experience tells us what worked in the past. I expect big advances in the future that will solve problems that have gone unsolved after many decades of trying. The rate of technological advance is surely accelerating.

Yet even if we examine the past we see shifts from energy sources to different energy sources. Wood and coal gave way to oil. Nuclear has been much hyped but its never managed to compete well against fossil fuels even in environments (eg France) where it has has had sustained political and popular public support for its use. France gets a lot of its electric power from nuclear and yet so far the electricity has not displaced fossil fuels even for all stationary uses. I'm guessing without looking closely that cost is the reason.

No technology is going to replace fossil fuels unless it becomes much cheaper than the current market price for fossil fuels. The reason for that is very simple: The marginal cost of production of the biggest oil fields in the world is about 3 or 4 dollars a barrel. We are not going to be able to make a market-driven shift away from fossil fuels (and only a market-driven shift will work world-wide) until a number of technologies mature and become very cheap. We need wind, solar or nuclear to become much cheaper and in nuclear's case we need advances (which I've read are forthcoming btw) that would eliminate proliferation and waste disposal concerns. Plus we need fuel cells and other pieces of the electric economy to mature as well.

Michael Gersh said at February 17, 2003 1:24 AM:

Bring it on. Electricity as the medium of energy exchange is fine as far as it goes, but it begs the question. The only obstacle between the situation the human race finds itself in today, and universal affluence, is the cost of energy. While solar (I include hydro and wind along with photovoltaic as solar) seems to be free of some of the drawbacks of nuclear or combustion technologies, it does not seem to me that any approach that depends on incremental improvement in current technologies will suffice. I hate to sound like a naysayer, and refuse to be categorized as a contrarian, but a new approach is clearly required to get us from here to a future where energy is cheap enough to power a world where hunger and poverty are unknown. Small improvements to existing technologies may be helpful in limited applications, but cheaper photo/voltaic cells will not change the world.

That being said, where can I buy some photovoltaic shingles for my roof?

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2003 3:46 PM:

I think the needed advances in fuel cell technology are going to come within 10 to 15 years. It would also be nice if battery technology advanced as well. I expect nanotech fabrication techniques to eventually allow the creation of batteries that have much higher energy density.

Obviously solar needs energy storage tech advances more than nuclear does. But in order to use either solar or nuclear to power cars and trucks we really need energy storage advances regardless of whether the energy source is nuclear, wind, or solar.

saxon jay pesko said at April 19, 2003 5:49 PM:

I am building a super solar bus and want more info......... Thanks.........

Bronwen Nicolas said at April 23, 2003 1:00 PM:

When will this material be available in Europe ?

Fuel Cell Man said at April 25, 2003 3:44 PM:

Solar Shingles Vendor:

UniSolar's "Solar Shingle" product:

Solar and Wind Hydrogen is a reality. You folks need to read about the "Hydrogen Economy." We have links and info and our site:


Europe has decided to begin its transition from an oil/Fossil Fuel to a Hydrogen economy. The U.S. has not made such a decision as yet. I suggest you read some of Rifkin's material:


The Hydrogen Economy is the future for the Planet--if it is to still support life.

Fuel Cell Man said at April 25, 2003 3:46 PM:

Solar Shingles Vendor:

UniSolar's "Solar Shingle" product:

Solar Hydrogen and Wind Hydrogen systems are available now. Hydrogen fueling stations are going in as I post this. We have contracts forthem now (L.A. and San Diego). You folks need to read about the "Hydrogen Economy." We have links and info and our site:


Europe has decided to begin its transition from an oil/Fossil Fuel to a Hydrogen economy. The U.S. has not made such a decision as yet. I suggest you read some of Rifkin's material:


The Hydrogen Economy is the future for the Planet--if it is to still support life.

ujjwal said at December 16, 2003 4:33 AM:

Respected sir,
myself ujjwal bhattad, stuyding for PG. programme in renewable energy in tamilnadu agricultural university INDIA.
sir, i am highely impressed by ur spheral solar cells technology. but on site, there is no deatils for students, i searched but i didnt get.
sir, i would like to give seminar on this new topic, for that i need ur help, can i get more information which will help me in my seminar ; means in this site only broad aspect is given like less cost than conventional cells but how much , has not given.also efficiency, and many more.

so if u will send the matter on the following address or send any site or journal name where i can get the information, i will be very grateful of u.

my address is;
ujjwal bhattad
room no# 109
PG hostel
TNAU, - 641003

gee said at February 19, 2004 8:53 PM:

how to buy soon Please!

Dan said at December 7, 2004 4:08 PM:

If I may put my two cents into Randall's and Michael's little tiff, the assumptions that renewable energies are incapable of providing the quantities of energy we need to maintain our affluence are true...if you factor in the amount of wastage that takes place in our current energy economy. Currently, we utilize 98.5 quadrillion BTUs, but we waste 57.8 quads. The worst offenders are electrical system energy losses associated with the transmission of energy to distant end-users (wasting 28.1 quads), losses in transportation, as most of the gas you burn goes to pulling your car, not you, (wasting 21.3 quads) and losses in residential and commercial systems (4.8 quads).

Simply put, our economy is lazy. We have to rethink the way we produce, transmit, and utilize energy to maximize it's effectiveness. For example, having smaller, local systes of generation (like, say, photovoltaics) represents an improvement in electrical system losses because we don't have to transmit energy generated hundreds of miles away. Second, conservation measures, efficiency measures, are terribly underrated. For every erg of energy you conserve, you not only save that one watt, but you save all energy that would be wasted in transmitting and utilizing that watt.

So, in response to Micheal, yes, we would need to utilize an ungodly square footage to power all human energy needs by photovoltaics. This is why conservation measures are so important. We have to start ingraining in our society greater measures of efficiency. We have to learn to squeeze every bit work out of every little watt we use. Fortunately, there's already an arsenal of technology out there , everything from compact flourescents, to flat screen displays, to power modulators that help regulate your A/C load, making it as much as 40% more efficient. We must learn to make our systems as lean and efficient as possible, couple this with a renewable energy portfolio involving solar, wind, dry geothermal, tidal, ocean thermal conversion, support these technologies with nuclear fission and biomass and then we'll never have to worry about energy shortages again.

Chiradip Lahiri said at July 19, 2005 2:41 PM:

India has plenty of solar energy and a very hot climate from the month of February till October. I am a HVAC engineer and planning to come up with a system where we can run air conditioners ( max 2- 3 TON, 220VAC) based on solar energy. The solar panels may be
installed in the roof. Is the above concept feasible? If so what will be the
cost of installation for such systems?

Please provide any guidances /calculations on the above. I want to see common people having the luxury of air conditioners without spending on electricity.

Billy Bee said at November 19, 2005 3:35 PM:

Air conditioners require gobs of current. It would be impracticle to run individual air conditioners from solar panels( 16V@1.2A = 19.2W). A typical air conditioners uses 3-6KW.

The technology mentioned above is 2-3 years away from market. The efficiency is to low(6.5%) to make the product a serious contender in the market. NREL presently has rigid panels that are apporx. 5x as efficient, but of course are more expensive. And I agree that the foot print for solar power is way to large to ever make it a viable alternative. At most, combined with wind, it will make up maybe 10% of the energy producing market.

Rahul Gopakumar said at March 3, 2008 5:08 AM:

how do u view to the use spheral solar cells in rural india? is it economical and efficient for rural house hold roof-tops for power generation? do give me suggestions on this..

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