TR: The cells can also be made on a flexible foil. Could we see them on tents, or built into clothing to charge iPods?
MG: Absolutely. Konarka has a program with the military to have cells built into uniforms. You can imagine why. The soldier has so much electrical gear and so they want to boost their batteries. Batteries are a huge problem–the weight–and batteries cost a huge amount of money.
Konarka has just announced a 20-megawatt facility for a foil-backed, dye-sensitized solar cell. This would still be for roofs. But there is a military application for tents, and Konarka is participating in that program.
TR: When are we going to be able to buy your cells?
MG: I expect in the next couple of years. The production equipment is already there. Konarka has a production line that can make up to one megawatt [of photovoltaic capacity per year].
TR: How does the efficiency of these production cells compare with conventional silicon?
MG: With regard to the dye-cells, silicon has a much higher efficiency; it’s about twice [as much]. But when it comes to real pickup of solar power, our cell has two advantages: it picks up [light] earlier in the morning and later in the evening. And also the temperature effect isn’t there–our cell is as efficient at 65 degrees [Celsius] as it is at 25 degrees, and silicon loses about 20 percent, at least.
If you put all of this together, silicon still has an advantage, but maybe a 20 or 30 percent advantage, not a factor of two.
TR: The main advantage of your cells is cost?
MG: A factor of 4 or 5 [lower cost than silicon] is realistic. If it’s building integrated, you get additional advantages because, say you have glass, and replace it [with our cells], you would have had the glass cost anyway.
TR: How close is that to being competitive with electricity from fossil fuels?
MG: People say you should be down to 50 cents per peak watt. Our cost could be a little bit less than one dollar manufactured in China. But it depends on where you put your solar cells. If you put them in regions where you have a lot of sunshine, then the equation becomes different: you get faster payback.