Solar power is a plentiful and environmentally friendly energy source. Nevertheless, traditional solar panels have limitations. These limitations include high costs, heavy weight, and rigid structures.

However, there is an exciting alternative: printable solar panels.

Printable solar panels

Printable solar panels are thin and flexible modules that can be created using printing techniques like inkjet printing, screen printing, or roll-to-roll printing.

Printable panels use specialized solar inks containing materials such as organic polymers, perovskites, or quantum dots. These materials can absorb sunlight and generate electricity.

Printable solar panels can be printed on various surfaces, such as plastic, paper, metal, or glass. They can be customized into different shapes and sizes to suit different applications. In addition, they can be integrated into buildings, vehicles, clothing, and even windows.

Numerous researchers have developed various types of printed PV devices, consisting of multiple layers on a conductive glass or plastic base. Each layer serves a specific purpose. Semiconductors or sensitizers absorb visible light while other materials transport charges to the electrodes.

The science behind printable panels

The functioning of printable solar panels is similar to conventional solar panels.

Both types of panels consist of multiple layers. Printable solar panels have three layers:

1. Top layer: A transparent and conductive layer that allows light to pass through and gathers the electric current generated by the solar cells.
2. Active layer: This layer contains the photovoltaic material, responsible for absorbing light and generating electric charges.
3. Bottom layer: Another conductive layer that collects the electric current from the solar cells and transfers it to an external circuit.

The active layer of printable solar panels can consist of different types of photovoltaic materials:

1. Organic: These solar cells create thin films with various colors and properties. However, their low efficiency and stability can hinder their affordability and printability.
2. Perovskite: Metal halides make up the perovskite solar cells. The halides exhibit different colors and compositions within their crystalline structure.
3. Quantum dot: These solar cells are based on small nanoparticles of semiconductors that emit diverse colors of light depending on their size. Quantum dot solar cells offer high efficiency and tunability but come with high costs and toxic properties.

Why printable solar panels are exciting

The most exciting feature of printable solar panels is their cost efficiency.

The high cost of traditional silicon solar PV systems mainly stems from the silicon material used in the photovoltaic elements. Although silicon is readily available and safe, its transformation into wafers for conventional rooftop solar panels is a costly process.

By eliminating silicon wafers, printable solar panels have the potential to cut solar panel prices by 50%. 

In spite of their great potential, printable solar panels have not yet become widely available. This is because their efficiency is 90% less than that of conventional silicon panels.

Once the efficiency of printable solar panels increases, printable panels will have the potential to revolutionize the energy industry.

Image Source: SolarCollab,