156: Saving Solar – Exploring the Future of Solar Panels

Matt and Sean talk about fixing flaws in solar panel designs and why previous attempts may have failed.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Fixing Solar Panels Fatal Flaw”: https://youtu.be/6UI90_YFABA?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7oiN-erZtwugd0muTdQXnU

YouTube version of the podcast: https://www.youtube.com/stilltbdpodcast

Get in touch: https://undecidedmf.com/podcast-feedback

Support the show: https://pod.fan/still-to-be-determined

Follow us on Twitter: @stilltbdfm @byseanferrell @mattferrell or @undecidedmf

Undecided with Matt Ferrell: https://www.youtube.com/undecidedmf 

★ Support this podcast ★

Today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about the dark clouds that hang over solar solutions. Hey everybody. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids and I’m just generally curious about technology and I can consider myself lucky because my brother, is that Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell.

Matt, how are you doing? Good.

That never I, I laugh every time you say that , because he is that mad. He is that mad. Yeah, that guy. Yeah.

You should put that on a t-shirt.

that Matt, that’s a, that’s actually one. I have two Twitter profiles. One’s kind of like the undecided Twitter profile. That’s just Matt Ferrell.

Mm-hmm. . And then my personal one. The name is actually, yeah, that Matt. Yeah, that guy . So what I put as my name .

Today we’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent episode, which focuses on solar panel technology. and trying to move away from silver toward copper. But before we get into that, I wanted to share some comments on a previous episode, and I’m talking about this comment, which is probably the best comment we’ve ever had on any episode, and it’s, you’re asking yourself how good a comment is this.

It’s this good. Both Matt and I independently pulled. Yes. To talk about it. Yes. Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about this comment from Joe Poe who wrote, yeah, I’m gonna need Sean to Shave or Matt to grow a beard and do 30 seconds of pretend there’s a mirror, . That’d be great. Thank you. Joe Poe. Yep. Believe me, when I tell you the number of times Matt and I have been confused for each other.

Including on this podcast, which I think is interesting. If you’re watching us on YouTube and leaving a comment and you misidentify us, you can see who’s talking. Yes, but ,

well, our parents. Our parents confuse

us, , our parents. I was consistently called Mahan and Matt was called Shama, and it. You know, we would respond to basically anything at a certain point.

Just be like, , if you’re, if I’m the only one in the room, you must be talking to me. Yeah. And I think my favorite moment of, uh, identity crisis between the two of us was the one morning when we were both up getting ready for school and we walked into the kitchen and both of us were wearing the same color.

T. So we both turned around, went back to our rooms and changed t-shirts and came back and then changed once again into identical t-shirts. And I said, you stay in that. I’m gonna go back and put the original one on

There was also this comment from Feld who wrote as a home builder, cost of building homes is currently making things really challenging. I wonder if the method. Is using to build his house will become more mainstream as we need desperately to find ways to cut costs, but still want to provide better and better homes.

He wonders. Does Matt know if there are integrated projects where half the home is manufactured on site connecting to a Unity home block, for instance, a kitchen, living room 20 by 40, that a home could be built, connected to? I think that could be an interesting way to provide options, but also allow for these manufacturers to really get some scale.

So basically, it sounds like felgo is asking for how much room did you have to customize? You wanted to live in there twice as big. Is there a way that a unity home could be built to connect to something that large

or that customized not unity, but the parent company? Bensonwood could, cuz they Benson Wood’s, like fully custom, like whatever you wanna do, they’ll figure out how to do it.

Uh, unity is more like Lego blocks and there’s certain dimensions that you stay within. So like when my wife and I wanted to get a little extra. In our house, they created what they called the connector between the living space and the garage, which separated the, the house from the garage and put a, basically a new Lego block in between.

And they had different dimensions of that Lego block. So yes and no with unity. Mm-hmm. , um, a hybrid model where you have an existing house and you’re adding an addition or something like that. I’ve never heard of that kind of combo yet, but what Unity is doing is in my interview with Ted Benson, they’re open sourcing software.

That for the design of homes like this. So they’re, they’re envisioning that there would be like manufacturing facilities all across the country and the world that would you just, you design your home, you’d spit the design at the foundry that’s near you where you wanna build, and then they cut it all out and build it and spit it over to you and ship it and like you put it together.

That’s a lot. It’s like at. Yes. That’s a lot spit. At some point I think that will be possible. Right now it’s not, but I think that would be part of their vision as well. Yeah.

And the parent company of Unity would be doing, building along the same lines of passive home, the kinds of designs that you went with, they, that is their goal to do Extremely environmentally friendly.

Yes. And environmentally cohesive. Homes. So it’s not like you’d be moving away from the kind of insulation and you know, the, what was the one test you had with the air movement in the home and the blower door test? Yeah, yeah. Things like that. The parent company, at a hundred percent customizing would be still using those techniques in order to better build the home.

Yeah. Bensonwood

homes are like extremely well built homes like, like what I’m building. It’s just Unity is just taking Bensonwood and trying to scale it down to make it more affordable. That’s basically

what it’s so onto today’s discussion, which is gonna focus on fixing solar panels Fatal Flaw, which is your February 21st, 2023 video.

This, of course, is looking at. , as Matt describes it, silver being a major component of solar panels, but it is arguably too hot a commodity to include. Yeah. In solar panels anymore because of cost and r. Sourcing silver and recycling silver is just not gonna cut it anymore. That’s the, that’s the main message that I got from your video.

That there is a finite amount of silver. The cost is going to keep going up and it’s gonna stand in the way of solar panel production.

Yes. It’s like when you look at geological surveys of how much silver repositories there are in the world there, there’s an estimate for what they believe that is, and right now we’re not mining all.

But we, we can get to more of it, but the question is like, the rate, we’re going through it, we are going to run out right? At some point. So it’s a matter of, it’s like a ticking clock. It’s like a time bomb getting ready to go off. It’s like we know, we can see it’s coming and it’s like a race to the finish lines.

Like are we gonna figure out an alternative before we get so scarce that the cost of silver just skyrocket and become way too. . Off the top of your

head, what can you tell us as far as other uses of silver that are competing with solar panels? Uh, everything .

It’s used. It’s used in consumer electronics, smartphones,

carrying it down so quickly.

Everything. John, you idiot,

silver is used in a lot of electronics and things like that. It’s a very common material that’s used. The competition is fierce for it and solar is sucking up a large quantity of that and solar becomes more popular. It’s share of that pie is gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger.

So it’s, it’s just, it’s a scarcity issue. Right. That’s

really what it is. And do I remember correctly, I think you mentioned in passing you were working on one video and the more you researched that was done by your team. Yes. You began to see. You were ticking more and more this direction to this video.

What was your original vision of what you were gonna be talking about? Well,

originally it was gonna be a video about, cause a lot of times we talk about future tech. and I wanted to kind of pull it back and say, okay, what’s happening right now in solar? Let’s look at the, what are the big things that are happening in the solar industry with solar panels in 2023 and 2024, like this year and next year?

What are the things that we should all keep an eye out on, uh, for what’s happening? And so we were looking at different, like solar panels that are, have just come to market or are about to come to market, and their efficiencies and their lifespans as we were digging into it, it was kinda like, um, my, one of my lead writers was looking.

This issue that kept coming up about copper, copper, copper and, and was like, uh, what’s going on with this? It was all these onions,

was it all these companies talking about here’s our 23 market, here’s our 24 market, but of course we’re also looking at copper. Was it that kind of thing where they kept referring to?

Yeah. There was things that kept coming up about copper and so as we were like peeling that onion, it was just kinda like, wait, there seems like there’s an interesting topic here. Why don’t we dig into that more? And so that’s when we just found this fascinating story with twists and turns that go back decades and the people that are involved in these copper solar panels and the copper pastes that were trying to come to market and the, the failures of these companies in the past.

And it’s like everybody knows everybody. Like, yeah, everybody seems to have gone to school together or be taught by each other. It’s like they all know each other. And so it’s just fascinating about this like little soap opera that’s been going around this technology that we got

fascinated. It does seem.

For the company, sun Drive, which is located in Australia, has on its board Shran. Right. Who, as you just mentioned, the nickname The Sun King. Yes. He had a, a commercially available product, but his company folded. Yes.

He went bankrupt. He became the first, right? He became the first solar billionaire. Like he was very successful at the beginning of his career.

But, and I have two panels and I have two comments about the, the, the bankruptcy and his involvement with sundry. What was it? Was it just economies of scale? Didn’t work out that the company couldn’t, uh, I guess what I’m asking is, is it similar to what happened with early versions of products where the product eventually will be commercially viable, but at a certain point early on, the prices are just too high to be able Yep.

To meet the cost of producing them and it just topples under its own weight. That

seems to be what we were looking at, is it seems to be he was too far on the bleeding edge. Right. Like it was a good idea. Too soon. And there wasn’t enough investment money coming in, right? Because everybody was looking at what was currently done.

It’s like, all this stuff is way cheaper. Why do we want to even invest there? It’s like it was so far in the future, it’s like, ah, that’s too early. So there wasn’t a lot of investments. And so it’s like everything kind of collapsed in on itself,

right? Because of costs. And that’s, that’s the, you mentioned the bleeding edge.

It’s important that somebody be at that bleeding edge. Yeah, and I would think that his involvement in Sun Drive is actually a very good. Because I wanted to, yes. I wanted to revisit the idea of like, what, what does failure look like and what does failure mean? And to me, this doesn’t look like failure.

This looks like somebody who was pushing to grow an industry that literally didn’t exist yet did it to a level that included enough success that he became a billionaire. But, mm-hmm. , the fact that it didn’t take hold doesn’t mean that he failed. It means that the market wasn’t there yet. Now it is. Right?

And now we see constant refrains of how do you get solar in your own home? What do you do to get ahold of it ahead of your videos? I am usually shown ads from companies that are saying, Hey, you’re thinking about ending solar in your home. Here’s how you do. Contact us and we’ll help you set it up. So the market there is now literally being advertised to people on YouTube.

It’s just, it’s a populist market at this point. It’s no longer just like commercial farms. So his involvement at Sun Drive, I would take as a very good. That somebody with the ability to push and create an industry in that way, sitting on the Board of Sun Drive, is going to be able to help them not only figure out how to grow, but how to grow smart.

Is that your assessment of, of his involvement there?

Yeah. I mean, there’s two ways to look at it. It’s like if you’re talking about like science. . It’s like you have a theory, you do a test, and then it turns out your theory is wrong. It doesn’t mean you failed. You learn something and then you try again and you, you evolve your theory.

I feel like that’s kind of something similar here. It’s like he had an idea, they tried it, the market timing wasn’t right. It collapsed, but that doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea. The timing was wrong. Right. And so now him being involved, I see as a really good, strong sign that there’s something there.

The fact that all of these. Are still involved with this company Sun Drive at this point. It shows that they really do truly believe that this is a, one of the best paths to go down, and they feel like they’ve cracked it. And so it’s like this timing may be right this time doesn’t mean they’re gonna succeed.

I’m not, I’m not saying they’re a success story or not right, but it’s like, it feels like the timing is right now, so it, it feels like they may have a, a good chance at making it.

and for Sun Drive, what is the one thing that is standing, like, what is the one hurdle ahead of them that is like between them being where they are now and them actually being on the market?

Is it about economies of scale? Is it about actual production facilities? What is the, it it, what’s the secret? What’s the big question mark that’s still lurking in front of them? Well,

this is outside looking in, so I don’t know. Yeah. In details inside the company, but it, it feels like what you typically see in a company that’s going from.

You’re going from a lab scale to commercialization, and they’re in that middle ground area right now, and that’s like the trickiest time for any company because scaling up to mass production is where most companies go to die. And so it’s like very few succeed. And so it’s like that’s for them. What I think is the biggest test is if they can get through this process, figure out how to ramp up production to have high throughput, keep the costs down, and get interest in buying these panels, that’s gonna be the.

Whether they succeed at that or not, I don’t know, but it’s, it looks like it’s just that scaling issue at this point.

While we’re still on Sun Drive, I wanted to share this comment from Streaky who writes, the thing I find interesting about Sun Drive is they also say the process can be used on much thinner wafers, which on its own would seem to make a big difference.

The issues over the last few years, quite aside from solar, have been clearly demonstrated how much of a problem our dependence on silicone is anything to reduce the size of them. , meaning the wafers has got to be huge, particularly in terms of cost, but also like silver and driving those prices in other markets for silicone.

So is that something you also took a look at other than silver were you seeing in your research. Other places where solar panels are trying to cut back on dependence on not only just silicone, but any, anything that goes into a typical solar panel. Are you seeing that across the board? Oh, yeah. Not

specific for this video, but I’ve seen it in research we’ve been doing for other videos.

You’re talking about like there’s a paraki, solar panels are like . Everybody looks at that as the holy grail. Those have a long way to go before those become mainstream, in my opinion. But it’s like there’s different paths that a lot of people are looking at to try to use different components to streamline them, to make them cheaper and efficient.

Cheaper and more efficient to make and produce. Uh, like being able to print them basically on any kind of surface you want, like a newspaper, you can print them on paper and glass, whatever you want. There’s all these different paths to trying to streamline the process and how much it costs to make a panel and making sure that they still last as long as current panels do.

Um, so it’s like there’s, for me, there’s a lot of people talk about like, I’m gonna wait for the more efficient solar panel, and I think. The wrong focus. Mm-hmm. people focus on efficiency and I think that’s efficiency is important, but we’re not gonna effi energy efficiency our way out of the problem we’re in right now.

Solar panels are efficient enough. It’s really about how can we make them dirt cheap? How can we make them even cheaper than they are right now so that it’s completely ubiquitous? How can we make them so that they’re easy to recycle? So like when the hit end of. They’re really easy to break down and make new solar panels out of.

Mm-hmm. . It’s like if we can crack those things, the costs drop and then suddenly it’s this solar is just like everywhere and nobody bats an eye. That’s to me where I think the real focus needs to be, and companies like Sun Drive and others are. Trying to find that. They’re trying to figure that out.

Moving on to

Cubert, my question about Cubert is, is the snake still chasing them or ?

Yes, I’m sorry. Wrong cubert. Wrong Cubert. For Cubert, what

does, yeah, how does Cubert fit into. The production of solar panels when what they’re talking about is the existing technology could be converted to use this. Are they ready to jump into market very quickly and very soon, or are they still in a stage of having to prove the concept and do more research?


looks like they still have some work to do. , it looks like they still have to do some proving, like we brought up in the, the video that there’s an issue with copper. You’ve got ISS concerns about oxidation, you’ve got concerns about it not sticking to the surface. Mm-hmm. and having to figure that out.

So it’s like there’s still. legwork they have to do. That raises

a question.

Yeah. On the surface it looks like they figured it out, but it’s like at the same time it’s, there’s definitely more vetting that has to happen. That

raises a question about how long does it take for the industry to ne to recognize that a step toward copper is viable?

Are we looking at a window of five to 10 years? 10 to 15? Is there a concern that, well, if we moved a copper, what if we find that they all fail after four? , what if they all reach a point where they’re so less efficient, so much less efficient than even an old silver? Solar panel that it’s not worth it.

Mm-hmm. . So how much proof of concept and how much research is it going to take before a company is able to say like, look, we’re putting this on the market. This

is viable. I, I think a be a good analogy would be electric vehicles. It’s been known for a while that electric vehicles are a really smart option.

But nobody was doing it because everybody was pumping out gasoline cars cheaply. Effectively. What was the motivation to do it? It took one company to come out Tesla to come out and basically show everybody what’s possible and make a car that’s as desirable as any gasoline car, but make it electric. and it was like that tip of the spear that kind of like started to flip the script.

So you need somebody that can kind of come in and flip the script. And now we have, I don’t think every car. Car, I don’t

think manufacturer is trying to create an electric

vehicle. Right. I don’t think any of the mainstream solar panel companies have any motivation to stop doing what they’re doing because.

it’s cheap, it’s effective. They’re making a profit. Why would they change? Why would they take that risk? It’s gonna take a company to come in and try to flip the script, and so it’s gonna take somebody like a Sun Drive to come in, show that it’s possible, show that they can achieve costs that are effective, and once they can do that and show a better path.

Then it’s gonna be like that trickle, it’s gonna cause that whole thing to shift where other companies will start to scramble and go, oh crap, they’re ahead of us. You know, silver is getting more expensive because it’s getting more scarce. It’s like, we gotta switch. Mm-hmm. . So it’s like, let’s go to copper.

So it’s a matter of who’s gonna, who’s gonna be the one that’s gonna flip that? That’s the big question. If,

let’s play Matt, the CEO for a moment. , you’re the CEO of a company and you see. All the numbers ahead of you, you know, for mm-hmm. , what the costs are for doing copper, what the costs are for doing silver.

Is it worth it, do you think, to say, well, we can transition over to copper now, even though copper’s more expensive right now, because I know 10 years from now it’ll be cheaper. because silver will have skyrocketed. Or do you wait until the production of the copper panel is literally cheaper than the silver production and say, now I make this transition because it’s saving money now as opposed to saving money in the future when a commodity becomes so scarce.

It’s price skyrockets.

Well, if, if I was a CEO of a company, I’d try to do the smart play, which would be, I wouldn’t switch to copper now because it’s a little more expensive, which means you’re gonna have a harder time selling the product, which means you could theoretically drive your company into bankruptcy , which is not what you wanna do.

So it would be, I would want to keep doing what I’m doing, but I wanna take my profits and invest in r and d to start working on those future technologies for when that switch makes, when it makes sense. So it’s like I’d be laying the groundwork. For how can I transition my existing factories to copper or another technology?

Invest in how to do that and do it as effectively as possible so that you’re prepared for when that tipping point hits. That’s what I’d be focused on. So it wouldn’t be copper now, but it’d be thinking, okay, copper may be in five years or eight years, but let’s start investing now to figure out how we can retrofit our.

Existing factories cheaply to be able to make that transition when it happens. Right

In that vein, thinking about CEOs with an eye toward the future while keeping their, their fingers on the current bottom line and being able to transition, I’d like to share this comment from Bill Hart who writes, as a former Eastman Kodak employee, and the reason I bring that up is because Eastman Kodak famously knew.

Nobody’s gonna wanna move to all digital cameras. Everybody is going to want to use film forever. And we also have that played out as Kodak is no longer what it once was. But Bill writes as a former Eastman Kodak employee, it’s a good thing that silver HEI based photography has all been disappeared. At one time, Kodak was the world’s largest silver consumer at more than 10 million Troy ounces per year.

That’s 311 metric tons. That total would’ve been much. More had it not been for internal silver recovery infrastructure, the recycled defective products and captured trillions of sprocket hole punches copper forward now. Thank you, bill for that sobering reminder of what it means for a company to be able to transition to make that shift and what they might be doing right now to also help themselves.

Afloat effectively, here’s to hoping that all the solar panel manufacturers have figured out ways of recapturing those little bits of silver that are getting lost on the factory floor. So with my final comment, I wanted to share this thought. Matt at one point said in the video, it costs a pretty penny to make skinny fingers.

my question to the commenters. I believe that this originally was a quote from Queen Elizabeth the first, but I’m not sure if I’m accurate or correct on that. So commenters let me know. Who do you think it was? Who originally said it costs a pretty penny to make skinny fingers? Let us know in the comments.

And of course, if you have a comment that you want to share, that’s about the actual topic of the video, you could share that as well. All of that really does help drive the conversations on not only this program, but on Matt’s main channel, which is our mother. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on YouTube, apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was you found this podcast.

Go back there and leave a review and don’t forget to subscribe. Tell your friends. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to still TBD fm and click on the Become a Supporter button there. Both of those ways allow you to throw coins at our heads.

The Welts Heel and the podcasts are made, so thank you for that. Both of these options are great ways to support us. Thank you so much for listening or watching, and we’ll talk to you next.

← Older
Newer →

Leave a Reply