Solar Costs Down to $2 per Watt, IBM Claims

May 16, 2008 / 11 Comments

Silicon photovoltaic panels are the most expensive solar installations at the moment but things are about to change because IBM claimed they have the technology to reduce the cost of harnessing the Sun’s energy for electricity, down to $2 / W.

ibm solar farm technology Solar Costs Down to $2 per Watt, IBM Claims

The company announced in a press release on Thursday, that using a large lens that concentrates power to around 2300x, they managed to capture a record 230 Watts on a square centimeter of solar cell which was later converted into 70 Watts of usable electric power. The main problem with such a power concentration is cooling down the silicon cell but I guess IBM engineers are experts in doing it, though not for photovoltaics.

“Specifically, the IBM team used a very thin layer of a liquid metal made of a gallium and indium compound that they applied between the chip and a cooling block. Such layers, called thermal interface layers, transfer the heat from the chip to the cooling block so that the chip temperature can be kept low.”

If IBM’s technology turns out to be true and the company is able to cool the solar cell efficiently, concentrated photovoltaic systems may become the cheapest type of solar energy available on the market. This would be a very big step in going mainstream, don’t you think?

11 Responses

  • larry / May 17, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    what about the boys that have it at $.30 per watt? by the time ibm puts it on the market it will be o expensive that we will be burning wood anyhow.

  • Uncle B / May 18, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Too bad science couldn’t use the excess heat on the chip to make steam and then more power!
    Physics will have to give up a few more of its secrets before a concentrated beam of sunlight can be efficiently converted directly into electricity. I imagine a return to a vacuum tube type technology and something robust enough to handle the energy/temperatures involved with solar concentrators.
    In the mean time, concentrated beams of solar energy and steam technology have been used successfully to provide electricity for a whole town in Spain! Once the price of oil reflects its true availability, More US towns may be successfully solar powered. especially if we have improved photovoltaic cells.

  • Kobayashi / May 18, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    This is a big breakthrough for Solar Photovoltaics. Especially if they could apply it somehow to power Electric Cars. The heat could be used for Stirling engine power production (Stirling engines work on Temperature differentials). So this is very big!

  • Diane / May 21, 2008 at 5:42 am

    The cheaper the better, the sooner the better.
    We should be putting more into research for solar energies.

  • Dennis Meizys / May 21, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Right now I am definitely not a fan of solar energy. But, if your blog post is accurate, then we can install more sites without ridiculous State and Federal Tax Credits, which are a waste of money.

    By the way, I am linking to your site as an example of a good metric of solar economics, as opposed to the dubious press release I reference in this article:

    http://www.marylandgreenpower.com/greenpower/2008/05/21/22/

  • vulcan alex / May 27, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Now costs are one thing, but self reliance is another. This does not look too good to me since the heat must be dealt with. Perhaps in association with the current collectors this would be a good combination.

  • Rex / July 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    The amount of heat already created by non-concentrated solar panels is enormous. A panel rated at STC (25 deg C, 1000 W/msq. irradiance, 1.5 Air Mass) gets its max power point when the CELL temp is 25 deg C.

    There are few applications when a cell temperature is 25 deg C. It is more likely operating in ambient temp of 28 deg C with a cell temp of 45-50 deg C. These numbers just go up from there. You can fry an egg on the back of most between 9am and 3pm.

    So can they vent that heat or not?

  • The Engineer / September 18, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Interesting research, but this kind of thing is obviously impractical for large applications due to materials involved and the cooling issue.

  • Altenergy / December 30, 2008 at 8:46 am

    i thought most of products should be free of tax solar energy products

  • Ryan Darkins / June 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    If $2 per watt is correct, they’ve only just now matched what solar water heating technology has been at for 20 years.
    Solar water heating converts 65% of the energy that strikes the panel into useful energy. PV electric cells only convert at 15% efficiency, and are much more expensive. The final cost per MW is about $10000 for PV and about $2000($2 per watt) for solar water heating. The payback(without subsidies) for water heating is around 6-7 years if your electricity rate is 10 cents per KW/H. We have more information here at http://www.sunbelt-solar.com/cost.html a local solar installer in Austin, TX.

  • solartronenergy / August 28, 2010 at 4:39 am

    i cant stand reading article after article of CLAIMS about cheaper solar energy. WTF, get it out there into the peoples hands, quit talking about it. Damn.

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