The only way that solar power is ever going to contribute an appreciable amount of energy to the betterment (and cheaperment) of society is if we plaster solar panels on everything, everywhere, all the time. And we might just be able to do it now, with this new generation of panels that are thinner than a strand of human hair by a factor of 20.
Thin doesn’t just mean lightweight (although these panels are very lightweight), it also means flexible. At 1.9 micrometers thick, the plastic foil cells are, for all practical purposes, elastic. So, you can layer them onto clothing, for example, and not only will you not be able to feel any additional weight, but the panels will be able to flex and crumple right along with the fabric without damaging anything.
Beyond applications requiring flexibility, solar cells that don’t take up any space and don’t weigh anything become an obvious thing to stick on to all sorts of surfaces just because you can. Back of a cellphone? Sure! Roof of your car? Sounds good! Bottom of your swimming pool? Why not!
The current generation of these cells can only convert 4.2% of sunlight into electricity (which is terrible, to be honest), but by the time commercial availability rolls around in five years or so, our hope is that that number will get bumped up enough to make it worthwhile to start putting this stuff on everything.