The solar industry in the United States is booming, with the industry growing at an annual rate of more than 50 percent over the past 10 years, adding to the employment of more than 240,000 Americans. Despite this growth, many people are still hesitant to adopt this green energy source because of the large initial investment required to build solar panels. the advent of 3D printed solar panels may make this green technology affordable enough for everyone to enjoy it. So, how do 3D printed solar panels work and where can we expect to see them in the future?
3D printing is appearing in almost every industry. It was only a matter of time before 3D printing and solar technology were linked. Traditional solar cells start with polysilicon, which is melted and injected with boron to form a semiconductor, then silicon wafers are added to the surface and etched, and electrical contacts are embossed on the surface. From there, each cell can be tested and assembled into a finished solar panel.
3D printing shortens most of the manufacturing steps, and a 3D printer places every layer from the semiconductor ink to the surface to produce cells 200 microns thick, about four times the thickness of a human hair.
If you're looking for a long-term solar solution, 3D printed panels are not the best choice. Now, they're not as efficient as traditional solar panels and won't last as long, but they make up for that lack of longevity in cost. A traditional 21 square meter solar panel can cost you upwards of $5,000, but you can buy 200 square meters of 3D printed panels for about $2,000.
3D printed panels may not last long, but according to industry experts, they can absorb more than 20 percent of the sun's rays and are 50 percent cheaper than traditional panels.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, U.S. companies alone added more than 145 billion watts of solar energy to the overall infrastructure in 2017, almost double the capacity installed in 2015. This doesn't even include the thousands of home-based systems installed during the same period. Adding solar to your business over the same period will not only lower your overhead, but it will significantly lower your monthly electricity bill, it will help you become more energy independent and reduce your carbon footprint. It can even boost your profits thanks to tax breaks and incentives from state and federal governments.
If you're looking for a long-term solar solution, 3D printed solar panels are not your best option, at least not yet. If the technology matures for a few more years, we may find that these 3D printed panels will be more efficient and last longer than traditional panels. Making solar energy more affordable could be the first step in the right direction as the American public needs to move away from fossil fuel power to more environmentally friendly alternatives, for sure.