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Harvard aims to help developers make cheaper solar panels

May 6, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - In a move that it hopes will help usher in an age of low-cost solar power, Harvard University's Clean Energy Project (CEP) in June plans to release a list of 20,000 organic compounds that could be used to make cheap, printable photovoltaic cells (PVC).

The list, which the CEP will make available to solar power developers, could lead to the development of very low-cost PVCs. Using the compounds, a PVC that covers 1 square meter would cost about the same as the paint needed to cover the same area, according to Harvard.

The CEP's data "will ultimately benefit mankind with cleaner energy solutions," said Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a Harvard associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology.

Today, the most popular PVCs are made of silicon and cost about $5 per wafer to produce. For a solar energy technology to be competitive, each wafer would need to cost about 50 cents, according to Aspuru-Guzik.

The compounds on the CEP's list could also improve the solar conversion rates of PVCs. Currently, the top solar conversion rate of silicon PVCs is about 12%, meaning that only 12% of the light that hits them is converted to energy.

The CEP uses IBM's World Community Grid -- which relies on the spare processing power of around 6,000 computers all over the world -- in its search for the best molecules for organic photovoltaics, as well as the best ways to assemble the molecules to build inexpensive solar cells.

Harvard has built data storage systems with a capacity of about 400TB to capture the results of the computations.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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