3D printing is fun and futuristic, but how will it "revolutionise the solar energy industry"?

3D printing is all the rage, even President Obama is all over it, saying in the State of the Union address that it "has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything." Perhaps. Others think that it is totally overhyped, and that if it is good for anything, it is for short, limited runs where traditional tooling is too expensive.

Writing in the Guardian, John J Licata thinks 3D printing could revolutionize the solar industry.

I believe this new printing medium could be a game-changer as 3D solar cells, despite advances in energy storage, can capture more sunlight than conventional PV models. How? They are more precise (using copper, indium, gallium, selenide: CIGS), less complex and weigh less.... Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe 3D solar panels could be roughly 20% more efficient than flat solar panels. 3D printing can extend the amount of solar absorbed into cells, which may turn some haters of solar power into believers.

Another benefit is cost. While installation is the dominate cost for solar power, it is estimated that precision 3D printing could drop production costs by 50% by eliminating many of the inefficiencies associating with the waste of costly materials such as glass, polysilicon or even indium. The ability to control the material inputs of your finished solar product would further turn traditional manufacturing of PV on its head by creating more of an on-demand model that doesn't require fabrication at distant warehouses. The fact 3D printing can take place just about anywhere should mitigate the lofty shipping costs which also deters positive views toward traditional flat PV.

There are many things that will be changed through 3D printing. I am not turning into a Christopher Mims style skeptic, but there is no way that it is ever going to be more efficient and cost-effective than mass production. Working with the kind of chemicals that go into solar panels is not going to happen in your driveway. This makes no sense. More in the Guardian.

Tags: Downloadable Design