Flecks of "Solar Glitter" Can Make Almost Anything Solar Powered

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©. Randy Montoya / Sandia National Laboratories

A solar technology invented years ago at Sandia National Laboratories has gotten a step closer to being on the market and that should make you pretty excited. The technology -- miniature, flexible solar cells called "solar glitter" that can be integrated into objects of any shape or size -- could change the way we approach solar energy generation.

The technology, which also goes by the name Dragon SCALEs, has just become part of a licensing agreement between mPower Technology and Sandia National Laboratories to commercialize these tiny solar cells. The technology behind solar glitter is called microsystems enabled photovoltaics (MEPV). The solar cells are made using microdesign and microfabrication techniques, which allows them to be lightweight and flexible and they are able to be printed onto a material much like printing ink.

The solar glitter could be integrated into and power things like sensors, wearable electronics, drones and satellites. It could also be used in large-scale applications like solar power systems on buildings and, because it's flexible, it could be used on any shape surface. The Dragon SCALEs can even be folded and used as portable energy generators.

The microfabrication opens up a wide range of shape, material and size choices that conventional panels could never match because of their brittleness.

“The key limitation to silicon is that if you bend and flex it, it will crack and shatter,” said Murat Okandan, founder and CEO of mPower. “Our technology makes it virtually unbreakable while keeping all the benefits of high efficiency, high reliability silicon PV. It allows us to integrate PV in ways that weren’t possible before, such as in flexible materials, and deploy it faster in lighter-weight, larger-area modules.”

Okandan also said that the technology will be cheaper to install than conventional solar panels and will be more reliable thanks to its high voltage and low current configurations. Conventional panels operate with low voltage and high current, which requires more metals like silver and copper that add to the cost of the systems.

Solar power has already dropped in price significantly in the past few years allowing for an increase in solar power installations around the world and solar glitter could push that progress even farther and into even more applications.