Printed solar panels demonstration site unveiled by University of Newcastle's Professor Paul Dastoor.

GROUND-BREAKING: Professor Paul Dastoor with the printed solar panels, fixed to the roof of Newcastle University. Picture: Marina Neil
GROUND-BREAKING: Professor Paul Dastoor with the printed solar panels, fixed to the roof of Newcastle University. Picture: Marina Neil

So light it can be attached with velcro, so sensitive it can pick up moonlight and faster to produce than any other form of renewable energy. 

Welcome to the future of solar power – and it’s being pioneered right here in our own backyard. 

Conventional solar panels are made with glass, but a University of Newcastle research team has developed a method of printing the panels using thin sheets of plastic and electronic ink. 

Other universities are also developing the technology, but Newcastle will become home to the country’s first large-scale demonstration site on Monday.

Once ‘printed solar’ becomes commercially available – which could be as early as the end of this year – it has the potential to revolutionize the way Australian households are powered. 

“Our installation brings us closer than we have ever been to making this technology a reality,” said Professor Paul Dastoor, who is leading the research team. 

“We have already created a demonstration site which is 100 square metres in size.  There are only two other comparable sites anywhere in the world.” 

Professor Dastoor has been working on the technology for the last 15 years and said the main advantages were the speed and low cost at which it could be produced. The material can be manufactured for less than $10 a square metre. 

"On our lab scale printer, we can easily produce hundreds of metres of material per day. On a commercial scale printer, this would increase to kilometres.

"If you had just 10 of these printers operating around the clock, we could print enough material to … power 1000 homes per day." 

The demonstration will allow for the final phase of testing before the technology can be made available to the general public. It has already attracted its first commercial partner, global logistics solutions company CHEP. 

It’s anticipated it could create a lucrative new revenue stream for the printing industry and remove key barriers to solar uptake. 

"It's clear that for a number of people the unsightliness puts them off a conventional solar panel," Professor Dastoor said. "Additionally, there are many roofs in Australia and internationally that are not strong enough to take all that weight of glass." 

But for Professor Dastoor, it is the potential environmental benefits that are the real game-changer. 

"I lead a team of 30 researchers who are absolutely focused on delivering a sustainable technology that's going to help us save the planet. The technology is … ideal for applications in majority world countries where an estimated 1.2 billion people still have no access to electricity.”