July 2, 2008--Now that Americans are paying gas prices approaching those that many Europeans have been paying for years, "green" technology is becoming a focus of some mainstream U.S. companies. Various technologies in development--electric cars, LEDs, solar cells--promise revolutionary savings, at least when they can practically be used instead of their conventional counterparts--gasoline-powered cars, compact fluorescent lamps, and traditional electricity sources.
But when will we reach those crossover points? For solar cells, at least, we now have an idea: two final-year masters students at the University of Southampton (Southampton, England) have predicted that by 2014 solar-cell electricity generation will be cheaper than conventional fossil-fuel methods.
Sean Nuzum and Tim Davey, who both studied for an engineering masters in electronic engineering at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), based their final-year projects on solar energy. Their work was supervised by professor Darren Bagnall at ECS.
In a research project entitled "Solar technology: emerging markets and global economic forecasting, when should you go solar?", Nuzum predicts that due to the rate at which gas and electricity prices are soaring, and the rate at which photovoltaics are decreasing, it will be cheaper to use solar cells by 2014. To make these cells more efficient, Davey proposes using devices based on amorphous silicon and develops a case for this in his research project, called "High efficiency a-Si thin-film multi-junction solar cells for the commercial market."
He notes that silicon is plentiful and much less toxic than other materials used to make thin film solar cells; the proper thin-film construction could result in a cell with 12% efficiency.
Both researchers believe that it is time for consumers to think seriously about installing solar panels. Sean believes that the most common argument against using them is the initial capital outlay needed. "The average system today in 2008 costs approximately £3,000 including grants, with a payback time of just six years, and this period will reduce significantly over the coming decade," he says. (As of July 2, 2008, £3,000 = $5977.50.)