Of all the renewable sources of energy, sunlight provides by far the most raw power. The challenge is to convert that potentially useful energy into everyday electricity at a reasonable cost.
Today some 1.3Bn people have no access to electricity and this number is currently projected to barely change in the foreseeable future, with some 1.2Bn people globally still forecast to be without access to electricity in 2030. The problem is particularly acute in rapidly developing areas of Asia and Africa, where a combination of population growth and industrial development is placing huge demands on the existing electrical infrastructure.
Traditional solar generation efforts have focused on replacing fossil fuel-based power generation for mainstream electrical applications (so called “on-grid” power). However, in countries where the distribution grid infrastructure itself is lacking, another market is rapidly growing for domestic and consumer applications that are not connected to mains electricity. Such devices are frequently powered by batteries, kerosene or diesel generators – all of which have a disproportionately high environmental impact as well as a high cost compared to standard on-grid electricity.
Eight19 is developing the manufacturing techniques to build environmentally friendly, low cost, flexible plastic solar cells. This technology is aimed initially at high volume, low power applications in both the developing and developed world, from solar lamps that replace damaging kerosene lanterns and chargers for mobile phones or laptops to portable power for leisure activities and indoor applications for self-powered sensors. As the technology matures, it will also be increasingly used in more conventional solar markets including building related uses where the flexibility, transparency and tunable appearance of plastic solar cells enable products that fit both the form and the stringent aesthetic requirements of commercial and domestic building applications.
Eight19 has a valuable route to the off-grid market through its relationship with Azuri Technologies and Indigo pay-as-you-go solar. Earlier this year, Eight19 began organic solar trials in Africa and it is envisaged that real-world data will accelerate product deployment.