New Solar Panels Would Be Inefficient — and Inexpensive

Usually, inefficient energy sources are an environmentalist’s worse nightmare — but the opposite might be the case for a new type of solar cell. True, the new cells would only capture about 10 percent of the sun’s energy (roughly half of what conventional solar cells capture), but they would be able to do so at a fraction of the price, making them far more marketable. The new cells are being developed by STMicroelectronics, Europe’s largest maker of semiconductors, which expects to have a prototype ready by the end of next year. Today’s solar cells are made from expensive silicon; STMicroelectronics plans to make theirs using plastics and other cheap materials to bring down the price of producing energy from roughly $4 per watt to as little as $0.20, making them competitive with fossil fuels.