In Brief
Researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia have found a way to print solar tiles. This method is cheaper and faster than traditional methods and could potentially be a game changer in the renewable energy industry.

Solar’s the Way to Go

Solar panels have become increasingly inexpensive in the past months. However, while a number of large-scale energy producers are shifting towards solar power, there is still a lack of homes that have adopted the technology. In Australia, a place bathed in seemingly constant direct sunlight, price is still a major stumbling block for homeowners considering switching to solar. Things may be about to change, however, thanks to a new variety of solar tile developed by researchers from the University of Newcastle (UON).

Image credit: University of Newcastle
Image Credit: University of Newcastle

Instead of the photovoltaics (PVs) that traditional panels use, UON’s Paul Dastoor and his team are testing printable solar tiles. “It’s completely different from a traditional solar cell. They tend to be large, heavy, encased in glass — tens of millimeters thick,” Dastoor told Mashable. “We’re printing them on plastic film that’s less than 0.1 of a millimeter thick.”

Currently, UON is one of only three sites that are testing printed solar. “We’ve put in the first 100 square metres of printed solar cells up on roofs, and now we’re testing that durability in real weather conditions,” Dastoor said. As soon as the performance and durability of these tiles are confirmed, it could easily go into market production.

Cheap and Fast

Dastoor and his team are excited about the potential these printed tiles have in influencing the wide-scale adoption of PVs, especially for homes. “The low-cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting, particularly in the current Australian energy context where we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on base-load power,” he explained in UON feature article.

Just for reference, Tesla’s solar tiles — which Elon Musk promised to be cheaper than regular roofs — are priced at around US $235 per tile. Meanwhile, Dastoor’s printed solars can be sold at less than US$ 7.42 per tile, which is comparatively very cheap, “[W]e expect in a short period of time the energy we generate will be cheaper than that generated via coal-based fire stations,” Dastoor explained.

Of course, whether tiles are printed or created with traditional PVs, solar energy is currently a major leading renewable energy source. And, solar power is not only incredibly environmentally friendly — producing energy without harmful byproducts that contribute to climate change —  it can also generate more energy than fossil fuels.