“Eventually units could be mass-produced and wrapped around unusual shapes for building-integrated solar, tents and maybe even clothing,” he said. This would make it possible for hunters, hikers or military personnel in the field to recharge batteries for phones, cameras and other electronic devices as they walk or rest.
For large-scale power generation, said Sandia researcher Murat Okandan, “One of the biggest scale benefits is a significant reduction in manufacturing and installation costs compared with current PV techniques.”
Each cell is formed on silicon wafers, etched and then released inexpensively in hexagonal shapes, with electrical contacts prefabricated on each piece, by borrowing techniques from integrated circuits and MEMS.
Solar concentrators — low-cost, prefabricated, optically efficient microlens arrays — can be placed directly over each glitter-sized cell to increase the number of photons arriving to be converted via the photovoltaic effect into electrons. The small cell size means that cheaper and more efficient short focal length microlens arrays can be fabricated for this purpose.
High-voltage output is possible directly from the modules because of the large number of cells in the array. This should reduce costs associated with wiring, due to reduced resistive losses at higher voltages.