Radically Inexpensive Solar Electricity

If you like, please go directly to our most active area of research: Cooking for the Global Poor



The cost of producing solar panels has been cut in half every five years since the 1970s. In 2018, solar became the cheapest way to generate electricity, representing a profoundly disruptive transition:

  • Electricity is accessible to the global poor.
  • Society is still conceptually committed to the central station / grid electricity distribution system even though generating electricity with distributed roof top solar is cheaper and will continue to decrease in price.

    Kavlak et al. 2018, manufacturing cost of silicon solar panels, see explanation below** The last red data point comes from the opportunity to buy bulk solar panels, which is likely somewhat above the manufacturing cost.

The cost of solar panels presently represents less than 20% of the cost of roof top solar ( LBNL), a portion that will continue to decrease. The other costs are related to installation and integrating into the present grid. Working from the Cal Poly Physics Department, we seek to eliminate these other costs by generating solar electricity from removable panels and using it directly. Please meet our research team.

Cooking for the Global Poor: We developed Insulated Solar Electric Cooking (ISEC) in 2015. See publication, Insulated Solar Electric Cooking – Tomorrow’s Healthy Affordable Stoves? and associated video. Our present research integrates ISEC with home electrical systems, in collaboration with Kuyere! in Malawi.

Solar Charging for Lights, Cell Phones, Electric Vehicles: Our charge controllers cost less than $1, consisting only of over voltage protection provided by a diode chain that dumps excess heat into the cooking devices described above.

Solar Ice: With no moving parts, Thermal Electric Coolers produce ice from solar electricity.

Preserving Grain by Keeping it Dry: Solar electricity powers an oven to recharge a Calcium Chloride desiccant. This desiccant preserves grains by keeping them dry.

Research Efforts of Summer 2016 with a large collaboration of students, faculty, and private enterprise.

Thermal Conductivity of Many Substances
Melting points

** The Kavlak paper describes what has been driving these cost decreases, highlighting two causes:

  1. The initial moderate decrease (corresponding to a 5 year time for cutting the cost in half) from 1970 – 2003 is the result of technology/efficiency improvements.
  2. The more dramatic decrease (corresponding to a 2 year “1/2 cost time”) is the result of industrial economies of scale.
  3. The last red data point comes from the opportunity to buy bulk solar panels, and likely represents a cost that is well below retail, but still above the cost of manufacturing, as represented in the graph.