Thin film ushered in second generation technology. In 2001, seed money from Google's co-founders helped launch a San Jose company called Nanosolar. It's thin film solar cells literally roll off the presses like newspaper. Now an estimated 70 thin film companies are chasing that G2 solar market.
Third generation technologies are all about making solar more efficient and less expensive.
In a small lab in West Sacramento, Brian Argo looks like an impatient scientist. He's one of the founder's of a company called Bloo Solar creating a third generation solar technology. Instead of a two-dimensional flat cell, Argo is building a three-dimensional vertical cell. What the human eye can't see is something that looks like a forest of solar cells.
"We can tell you how tall the trees are, how far apart they are, so we can trap light perfectly. We can coat the trees perfectly so that they will bristle with electricity," says Argo, the director of engineering at Bloo Solar.
The materials to create the cell and the electroplating process are not new. It's the cell structure that's unique.
A traditional solar cell works when the sun hits it directly; generally between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Bloo Solar says its cell can start harnessing the sun's energy as soon as it hits the horizon.
A model of solar cells shows the design allows for cells to capture light from any angle and the light is trapped and ricochets between the cells.
"Captures more, converts more and conducts more electricity away," says Larry Bawden, the CEO of Bloo Solar. Bloo Solar has 11 patents pending for its nanotechnology. It calls the nanostructure, "solar brushes." It's optimal size is 15 times higher than it is wide.
"To give you an illustration of just how small these solar cells are, the next picture after this one you will see a human hair going across the picture and there is literally thousands of solar cells within the diameter of that human hair," says Bawden.
Each small slide has 300 million solar brushes on it. Bloo Solar is now scaling the technology to larger surface areas. Eventually, a 2'x5' solar panel would be made up of 50 billion solar cells.
The idea is that the cells are more efficient in converting sunlight to electrical energy, require fewer solar panels and could compete on a price point with grid power.
"So we're taking it to an entirely new platform and we're able to achieve conversions and cost structures that have never been attempted before," says Bawden.
Bloo Solar is hoping to develop a production line by 2011 and be shipping at least 180,000 panels a year. If they're successful, the demand is already there.
"We now have five separate supply agreements to supply all the product that we can produce for the first six years of our production," says Mark Breunig, from Business Development at Bloo Solar.
The solar brushes have a long journey ahead, but Argo is confident he holds one key to energy independence. "That is what is special, the ability to make those trees and space them out. that is the holy grail of solar power," says Argo.
Bloo Solar hopes its third generation technology takes an unlimited resource and generates affordable solar power for everyone.
Bloo Solar: www.bloosolar.com