November 11, 2013 – A tabletop machines that makes solar panels? What a great idea! That’s the Solar Pocket Factory, the first of its kind. It automates the construction of photovoltaic panels using a lamination technique that covers and holds the individual solar cells (called solettes) laid down in a series with the end solettes contacting the electrical conductors. There is no soldering involved, just the pressure of the laminate overlay. This allows the solettes to expand and contract microscopically without worrying about stresses on soldered connectors. Manufacturing is a 7-step process with each completed set of solettes run through a laminator to complete the process. It takes approximately one minute to make a small 5 Volt panel.
Although still a pretty crude looking device, the Solar Pocket Factory, seen in the picture below, may spark a revolution in off grid solar power manufacturing bringing solar derived electricity to over 1.5 billion on the planet.
On the Solar Pocket Factory website you can find all kinds of products for sale from 6 Volt to 15 Volt panels, solar phone charger kits, and even a solar-powered paper house.
Last year the inventors raised $78,000 on the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter. With this money they began an experiment on the Philippine island of Alibijaban. Alibijaban appears to have been spared from the worst winds of this week’s devastating typhoon, Haiyan, with the eye of the storm tracking to the south of this small island located off Luzon, the Philippines main island.
The island has been completely dependent on a weekly supply of car batteries sent from the main island to power its lights, televisions, phones and fans. But with the help of the Solar Pocket Factory, small solar panels have been manufactured and introduced into several hundred homes providing off grid power that is costing the islanders about one cent U.S. per day. Compare that to the $1.50 to $2.00 it has been costing per week for batteries.
The inventors eventually hope to sell the Solar Pocket Factory to local Developing World manufacturers but the current price they estimate at approximately $50,000 U.S. I suspect this will come down as the inventors move past the prototype to a commercial product. Or they may choose to open source the technology and provide the materials for local assembly. We’ll see what ensues. In any case this is the type of disruptive, innovative technological progress that makes our 21st century so exciting.