printable solar cell CSIRO
Solar cells the size of an A3 piece of paper can be printed using existing printing techniquesCSIRO

Cheap, printable solar cells that could power anything from smartphones to skyscrapers are one step closer to market, according to scientists involved in their production.

Solar power experts from Australia's Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium - which consists of scientists from CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University - claim that the technology is close to commercialisation following seven years of research in the area.

Fiona Scholes, CSIRO's senior research scientist, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the team developed "solar inks" capable of generating energy from sunlight.

The scientists were then able to modify commercial printers to take solar ink in order to print onto plastic sheets the size of an A3 piece of paper.

The printed solar cells can then be used on buildings or to power electronics, much like traditional solar panels.

"iPad covers, laptop bags, skins of iPhone - not just for casing electronics but to collect some energy to power those electronics," Scholes said.

"We print them onto plastic in more or less the same way we print our plastic banknotes. Connecting our solar panels is as simple as connecting a battery."

Scholes also noted that the printed solar cells can be made to be semi-transparent, opening up new potential applications, such as tinted windows.

The printed cells are still currently 10 times less efficient than standard solar panels but Scholes believes that the efficiency of the technology can be improved.

"We would like to improve the efficiency of solar panels - we need to develop solar inks to generate more energy from sunlight," she said. "We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come."