Astonishingly brilliant

Physicists at the University of Cape Town have invented a way of printing out photovoltaic cells (solar panels, but the phrase doesn’t fit here) on paper. The point is to produce solar gear that is cheap above all”; Professor David Britton, its inventor, argues that people who can’t afford to buy the conventional panels, which are far from cheap even by western standards, could pay for a couple of them every year. The process involves layering the contacts and semiconductors onto paper using an inkjet printer, and an A2-sized poster should produce 100 watts of electricity.

This is absurdly cool, especially in-context. Around Cape Town, in the townships, one sign of progress in the ANC’s original aims is the mass of new electricity cables being run out to hook up the people to the grid. It seems a pity, starting from scratch, not to put in renewable power. This might do it, and it also reminds of a very important question: if anything serious is to be achieved in replacing environmentally stupid technology with better technology, we need to break the notion of “green” as a lifestyle option for annoying rich people. It has to be open to the working class.

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