For the most part, solar panels in calculators, cell-phone chargers, emergency radios, and the like, are a task done by hand. Individual silicon solar chips, about 0.5V capacity, are broken on score lines by hand from a larger chip, and then assembled and soldered by hand to achieve whatever voltage and configuration required for the task.
While prices of silicon have gone down, the price of assembled small-scale solar panels have gone up, because of the rising cost of labor.
Current small-scale solar panels are more expensive than large-scale panels, by as much as 300%, or about $1.50 per watt. The crowd-funded invention by Shawn Frayne and Alex Hornstein, the Solar Pocket Factory, takes the manual labor out of miniature solar panel construction, and could produce between 300,000 and 1,000,000 panels a year, depending on panel configuration.
If their project works, Frayne hopes that making small-scale solar panels cheaper might get more people interested in utilizing them for projects and power generation, and “could, maybe, push more and more solar products out into the world.” Frayne expects to have a full working model by April, 2013.
If you remember, Shawn Frayne was the one who invented the “wind belt” – a system that transforms vibrations produced by the wind into electricity through piezoelectric means, more than 4 years ago. We wrote a piece on this at the time, right here.
Watch a brief presentation of his (their) new project below: