With Australia’s energy crisis dominating headlines, a powerful new industry-research collaboration signals emergence of a new renewable energy market – organic printed solar.
Created by University of Newcastle Physicist, Professor Paul Dastoor (pictured), organic printed solar cells are electronic inks printed onto sub-millimetre thin plastic sheets using conventional printers. CHEP has become their historic first commercial partner helping to explore the potential of the technology.
“This is the first commercial uptake of printed solar in Australia, most likely the world. It’s an historic step in the evolution of this technology and another example of private enterprise and community leading the charge in the adoption of renewables,” Professor Dastoor said.
The commercial-scale installation on CHEP’s Beresfield pallet repair facility is the final stop before the technology becomes widely available.
Viewed from above, the almost 200 sqm demonstration of cutting-edge renewable energy technology cuts a lonely figure against an expanse of bare warehouse rooftops in its location within an industrial park in Beresfield, near Newcastle.
How it Works and Advantages
Printed solar is an ultra-lightweight, laminate material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet. The material delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.
The process, coined ‘functional printing’, is completed in-house on a lab-scale printer at the University of Newcastle’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) facility.
“On the University’s lab-scale printer, hundreds of metres of material can be produced per day, however upgrading production to a commercial-scale printer would increase this output to kilometres.
“No other renewal energy technology can be manufactured as quickly.
“The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting as we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on base-load power – a renewed concern as we approach another summer here in Australia,” Professor Dastoor said.
Incredibly simple and fast to install, 640 m of material were installed at the CHEP site by a team of 5 in just one day. So lightweight, the material is secured using standard double sided tape.
“Not only are printed solar cells approximately 300 times lighter than traditional cells, silicon isn’t a practical solution for roofs needing repair or replacing. Many roofs just aren’t capable of supporting the weight of the amount of silicon panels required to meet their energy demands,” he said.
Disrupting the Energy Marketplace
“One of the most common questions I’m asked is when will people be able to buy this on shelves at Bunnings,” Professor Dastoor said.
Unlike most centralised or de-centralised energy infrastructure, which requires a substantial upfront investment, printed solar might resemble something more akin to a mobile phone plan.
“In future, we expect users might sign onto this energy solution in a similar way to a mobile phone plan, where you determine your usage requirements, pay a monthly service fee, but never need to ‘own’ the infrastructure. The service provider installs and upgrades your service for you as the technology continues to develop.
“This is quite a step change in how we’ll think about energy provision and energy markets in the near future,” Professor Dastoor said.
This story was first published in The Fence magazine.