The cost of solar power has dipped dramatically over the past few decades, from $40/watt in 1977 to $0.74/watt in 2013 according to Inhabitat.
This price trend is expected to accelerate as improvements in new technologies and efficiency continue. This is good news for citizens of developed countries who want to make the switch to a cleaner and increasingly cheaper energy source. And because of affordable printed solar cells, 1.5 billion people without electricity may be able to enjoy electricity for the first time.
Paper-thin solar cells require only an industrial printer to manufacture and are very cheap to produce. Unlike traditional panels, the printed solar cells are very flexible, which eases their transportation to many rural locations. Printed solar cells have developed rapidly, rising from 3% efficiency to 20% in just a few years.
According to Scott Watkins of the Korean company Kyung-In Synthetic, he has witnessed first-hand how the technology has facilitated poor communities in India to access off-grid electricity. The success of the technology is due to its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. A 10×10 cm solar cell film is enough to generate as much as 10-50 watts per square meter.
The flexible panels can be prone to moisture damage and may lead to lead contamination if broken. The company is testing new coatings for the cells to mitigate these issues. A cooperative system in which the community members contribute resources and maintain the democratic management of the venture may ensure sufficient start-up capital as well as the establishments of a strong local distribution network. Despite the challenges, printed solar cells are a powerful anti-poverty tool and exemplify a major step towards a 100% renewable energy economy.