The solar market has been on fire. In the U.S., it’s grown by 600 percent over the past five years, culminating in 3,313 installed megawatts in 2012. This past March, seven solar projects added the only new utility power of any kind to the U.S. grid. But solar energy isn’t quite cost-competitive yet. Bridging the final gap requires breakthroughs that increase efficiency while cutting costs.
The Dramatic Reimagining
Conical Solar Panels
Even for photovoltaic (PV) panels, there’s such a thing as too much sun—when cells overheat, they become less efficient. V3Solar solved that problem with Spin Cell, a conical array that floats on magnets. An outer cone made of specialized lenses concentrates bands of sunlight on an inner cone covered with PV cells. The cells capture light energy but spin away before thermal energy can transfer. This constant cooling means V3Solar can use cheaper, less heat-tolerant material than other light-concentrating systems.
The Why Not? Plan
Drape the Planet with Solar Fabric
Would embedding solar cells in every bolt of fabric make a dent in our fossil-fuel consumption? It’s worth a shot. Greg Nielson, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher—and 2012 PopSci “Brilliant 10” honoree—has developed solar glitter that could turn nearly any surface into a power source. Clusters of the dust-size cells (as small as 250 microns across) could be incorporated into standard PV panels, doubling their efficiency, or into the material for bags and clothing.
Written by Erik Sofge. To read the full article, click here