Flexible Solar Panels Stack Cells on Sheets Printed Like OLEDs

By Andrew Tarantola on at

Solar panels are finicky devices—they have to be specially mounted, angled, and presented with the precisely correct environmental conditions to function at capacity. The complexities make it hard for the technology to gain mainstream appeal. A German startup hopes to change all that with flexible solar cells built using OLED production techniques

Developed by Heliatek in Germany, the panels are composed of organic modules embedded on a polyester sheet. They're made in a way similar to the process by which OLED displays are "printed." The technique results in a panel that's more flexible, lightweight, and versatile than a conventional, rigid panel. The panels also employ two stacked layers of solar cells arranged in a patented tandem cell construction, which can absorb a broad spectrum without relying on thick wafers of silicon. And, under less-than-ideal conditions, the panels can generate as much electricity as conventional solar panels. The panels can be deposited on a single continuous roll of film, which eliminates the need for clean rooms. This, and the fact that the panels can be cut to size, reduces production costs.

The technology is still more expensive per watt than current generation solar technologies, though the company expects costs to drop as production ramps up. One long-term plan is for Heliatek to work with window manufacturers, to integrate its solar films as power-generating tints. In another concept, Heliatek could build the panels directly into a building's roof and facade, so that the whole of the structure produces electricity. The end result could provide plenty of fuel to charge those intriguing whole-house batteries. [Heliatek - Technology Review - Image: Heliatek]