The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently announced that it is using Corning’s thin, flexible Willow Glass to develop thin-film cadmium telluride photovoltaic cells. By using Willow Glass as a flexible substrate, NREL can roll out rooftop photovoltaic cells using a serialized newspaper printing process, greatly improving production speed.
NREL’s new Willow Glass solar cells are flexible, thin, and durable enough to be installed directly on rooftops as solar shingles. Cadmium telluride solar cells have the fastest energy payback when compared to other photovoltaics – the break-even point is said to be under one year, so the money spent on installation could be quickly returned.
There are several companies currently making solar shingles from plastic (including DOW powerhouse and SRS Energy), although Corning says that their Willow Glass photovoltaics are more durable and resistant to air and water, which can damage and reduce the life of the solar cells.
Corning’s new solar cells could also be cheaper – to date, cadmium telluride cells are cheaper than the more widely used crystalline silicon cells when you compare size vs wattage output. The trouble has been finding a transparent substrate that can withstand the heat necessary for production.