The panels's vacuum chamber provides excellent insulation according to the CERN press release, which says that they have maintained internal temperatures of 80 degrees C when covered in snow.
The panels make use of thin film technology rather than conventional silicon solar cells. Most solar panels in the market today are based on silicon, although some, like those from First Solar and Solar Frontier, use thin film.
I tried to get CERN to tell me what thin film material they use, but see the account of the brush-off a few paragraphs above. First Solar uses cadmium-telluride, and Solar Frontier uses copper-indium-gallium- selenide (CIGS).
None of this sounds like the sort of thing the common man could afford. In an era when solar panel prices are plunging, I can't imagine that a "getter" stripped, vacuum-chambered solar panel could come to Main Street without a sizable bank loan.
I applaud CERN for putting its heady technology to practical use. It's not the first time something with everyday potential has emerged from the Swiss wonderama land. Tim Berners Lee conceived the World Wide Web while at CERN.
But until I get some more answers, this one feels a little like CERN is trying to show a practical side to offset its critics who complain that it spends tons of public money on big science machines and experiments.
Note to CERN: I'm impressed by your grand work that has made so many headlines lately (see a partial list below of SmartPlanet stories, many of which I've written) and that are helping to spring physics into a rightful place in public awareness. But if you're going to get down on the common's man level and announce a solar panel, please, can we have a few more answers. SmartPlanet readers deserve it. Thank you.