However, the technology has several drawbacks that will initially limit its applications. The solar cells only last a couple of years, unlike the decades that conventional solar cells last. What’s more, the solar cells are relatively inefficient. Conventional solar cells can easily convert 15 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity; Konarka’s cells only convert 3 to 5 percent. As a result, they require much more area to generate electricity, so they’re not as attractive as ordinary solar cells for generating electricity on rooftops, where space is limited and the technology’s light weight and flexibility aren’t needed, says Dana Olson, a research scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO.
At first, Konarka will focus on niche applications such as umbrellas and tents, while working to increase the efficiency of the solar cells to between 7 and 10 percent, at which point the company could compete in cost with conventional sources of electricity, Hess says.
The company plans to gradually ramp up production at its new factory, reaching full capacity in two to three years. Because the solar cells can be made transparent, Konarka is also developing a version of its solar cells that could be laminated to windows to generate electricity and serve as a window tinting.