Nicole Kuepper and low-tech, low-cost solar cells

Nicole Kuepper, photo by Kris Krüg.

Nicole Kuepper‘s bio is not in the printed program — she’s a special addition to Energy, Form and Motion program today. She comes from Australia where she’s working on “low tech ways of producing low-cost solar devices,” Andrew Zolli explains.

 

“I’m passionate about bringing affordable solar electricity to the developing world,” Kuepper says. “If like me you’re lucky enough to be born to two very nerdy German mathematician parents, and you get given a solar-powered car for your 8th birthday, it is pretty inevitable that you will end up, like me, a major nerd, hanging out in a lab, going giddy about solar technologies whenever you get the chance to talk about them!”

 

 

She’s excited about solar energy because it has potential to solve two major problems, climate change and global poverty.

 

 

“For me, the potential for photovoltaics to play a major role in reducing the use of dirty kerosene lamps and the money people spend on batteries is enormous.” She was shocked, she says, by the potential for electricity: to help people gain access to vaccine refrigeration, water pumping, etc, and yet the off-grid applications for photovoltaics are not growing nearly as quickly as grid connections in countries like the US, Germany, and Spain.

 

 

Three years ago she began thinking a lot about the problem and how she could play a role in turning that statistic around to help the people who do’nt currently have access to electricity.

 

 

“You might not think manufacturing’s sexy,” she says — but she does. So she began to look into photocell manufacturing. It uses expensive equipment, clean room environments, highly-trained people — things a developing country may not have in abundance. How could you change the way we manufacture solar cells? “We started to look into low-cost alternatives,” she says, like using inkjet printing on solar cells.

 

 

“We’re creating a positive and negative pattern using inkjet printing and metalizing the pattern using one simple low-temperature process” which makes use of a cheap metal. This way you can manufacture photovoltaics in developing nations, which creates employment and also helps make the cells available in those countries.

 

 

The voltage of solar cells is a good indication of the potential of that solar cell. Last week they managed to make their first cell which has a voltage of 550 millivolts, “which is very exciting!” (It’s too low to power anything, but it’s a great leap forward.)

 

 

When we put a man on the moon, that showed what is possible when we have excitement about innovation and technology. Can we tap that same excitement to work on global climate change and poverty?

 

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