Solar Power's New Style

The heavy silicon panels of yesterday are giving way to thin-film cells--a cheaper, more flexible technology that could change the way we harness the sun

Thomas Broening for TIME

Roscheisen claims Nanosolar can already produce thin-film solar cells at prices competitive with fossil fuels.

Mike Gering, CEO of the start-up Global Solar, picks his way along his factory floor, tracing the convoluted path that his thin-film solar panels follow from birth to shipping truck. The raw materials the workers carry are ultra-thin sheets of flexible plastic, which are then coated with a series of chemicals--indium, gallium, diselenide--that allows the module to turn sunlight into electricity.

The atmosphere here is less high tech than high school chemistry lab, and Global Solar's days in this cramped Tucson, Ariz., facility are history. The company is shifting production to a sparkling factory just a few miles down the road....

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