September 11, 2007
Heliovolt Thin Film Photovoltaics To Lower Costs

Will Heliovolt be the company that finally makes solar photovoltaics competitive with existing major sources of electricity?

Powered by $77 million in new investment, startup Heliovolt, based in Austin, TX, will build a factory next year for mass-producing a new type of solar cell that could, in much of the United States, make solar electricity as cheap as electricity from the grid. The company will be scaling up a new manufacturing technique that could produce high-performance thin-film solar cells more reliably than other methods.

Heliovolt is one of several startups developing a type of thin-film solar cell that converts light into electricity with a micrometers-thick layer of a copper-indium-gallium selenide (CIGS) semiconductor. Thin-film solar cells are attractive because they could produce electricity cheaper than conventional silicon solar cells.

Read the details in the linked MIT Technology Review article.

We have a problem with a looming fossil fuels shortage, especially for liquid fuel. But we do not face a general energy shortage or peak energy production problem. If necessary (or if we just get disgusted enough by conventional pollution) nuclear power could displace coal for electric power generation. Wind electric costs are going to go down and wind's role will grow. Also, one or more of an assortment of venture capital photovoltaics start-ups will bring low cost solar to the masses. With all the fine minds chasing this challenge I'll be surprised if photovoltaics aren't cost competitive for the American southwest within 5 to 7 years and for more temperate climates within 10 to 15 years.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 11 11:04 PM  Energy Solar

Paul Dietz said at September 12, 2007 9:20 AM:

It's a shame indium (and gallium) production is limited, though.

Wolf-Dog said at September 12, 2007 10:28 AM:

If I understood what that article (Randall Parker provided the like above) is saying, CADMIUM is used to make these solar cells:
"First, films of cadmium selenide and indium selenide, which are relatively easy to make reliably, are deposited on two flat plates. Then these plates are brought together and, through a combination of electromagnetic attraction and heat, fused together."

Mass-producing such cadmium cells to be used all over the country, might be a deleterious idea. It is OK to produce a limited quantity for the military, space or other limited businesses, but to deploy so much cadmium all over the country, might be a complicated issue, since we must figure out a way of keeping track of it, to make sure it will be recycled when it wears out, AND that it will not leak...

TTT said at September 12, 2007 11:58 AM:

Wind + Solar cost reductions, combined with electricity savings from CFLs and LEDs, coupled with Plug-in Hybrids AND electric vehicles like the Tesla, is a recipe for a dramatic reduction in Coal burning AND Oil consumption by 2015.

russ said at September 12, 2007 12:36 PM:

Didn't Nanosolar say they were going to do the same thing like a year ago? I don't believe any of these solar companies. There is always so much talk and enthusiasm but never a solid result.

Paul Dietz said at September 12, 2007 12:38 PM:

CADMIUM is used to make these solar cells

Making copper-indium-gallium-diselenide by using cadmium would be a neat trick.

Innovation Catalyst said at September 12, 2007 1:41 PM:

"But the company's target is to reach 15 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2010."

If that's the target, don't plan on selling too many in urban/suburban America. If you want to obsolete the electric grid, you need to be at about half that, installed, with all the associated inverter hardware and wiring.

Randall Parker said at September 12, 2007 6:02 PM:

Innovation Catalyst,

15 cents a watt is pretty close to what we are now paying for electricity in SoCal.

A amount in cents per kwh has to be provided with a context of which area it costs that much. The same solar panel costing the same dollars makes electricity for 2 or 3 times more cost in Seattle than in Phoenix. The total insolation difference is so large between those places.

I found a cool map a few weeks ago showing the dollars per watt cost at which solar becomes competitive across the United States. It varies as a function of insolation and average local electric cost. The southwest becomes competitive soonest as does SoCal in part due to weather but also in part due to existing higher prices for electricity. Curiously, Colorado and the Dakotas are much more competitive for solar than any part of New England because the plains get a lot of blue skies.

Anyway, I am trying to find a URL to such a map. If anyone has a URL for cost at which solar becomes competitive with local utility electric please post it here.

Innovation Catalyst said at September 13, 2007 1:38 PM:


If the photovoltaics cost 15 cents per kilowatt hour, the total installation will cost much more than that due to labor, inverter, wiring, switching, etc. Right now, the photovoltaics cost about half of the total installation. That's why the cost needs to drop way below that.

Randall Parker said at September 13, 2007 5:54 PM:

Innovation Catalyst,

They might be quoting total costs for the 15 cents per kwh. Hard to tell.

Labor: When photovoltaic materials start being able to substitute for roofing materials then any time someone has to put on a new roof part of the labor costs of photovoltaics installation will get paid by the labor costs of installing a roof that is needed anyway.

Greg said at November 30, 2007 12:02 PM:

How well do the roofing materials stand up to golf ball size (or bigger) hail? We have to replace shingles every 5 years around here for hail damage.

Greg said at November 30, 2007 12:04 PM:

I guess from the discussion here on Cadmium that you people are not aware of the amount of Cadmium there is in each of your car batteries.

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