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New Solar Cell Could Make Solar Power Cheaper

Scientists in California are working on a new solar power cell they hope will provide energy at a lower cost than conventional solar panels.

Scientists in California have developed an ultra-thin, solar cell. The manufacturing process is currently long and complicated. But with the tremendous growth of solar power in the United States, it will probably be worth the effort.

Three times more electricity is being generated by solar panels now than it was in 1999. In 2004 half a million dollars worth of solar cells and modules were shipped every week inside the United States. And with the prices of fossil fuels on the rise, demand for alternative energy sources is likely to increase.

So researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are trying to make a very thin but durable solar cell that will have more applications and generate more energy than the bulky solar panels now in use.

Ilan Gur is one of the scientists involved. "The thickness of the film of nanocrystals is really important because that is our active layer, that is our active material in the solar cell. And obviously we are making a solar cell, we need to absorb all of the sunlight."

The result: something similar to material used in computer chips in DVDs and CD players.

Heated metal is added to that film. The resulting solar cell is then tested to see how well it would work if it were on a rooftop.

Paul Alivisatos is a scientist and professor of chemistry involved with the project. He says the cells are manufactured similarly to photographic film, which could be a great advantage.

"The hope in the long term is that these kinds of cells can be more efficient,” said Mr. Alivisatos, “but also much lower cost and that is the goal."

He says if every roof in the country was covered with solar cells, sunlight could supply three-quarters of the electricity needed in the U.S.