The main disadvantage of traditional solar panels is efficiency. The cells can only capture a specific wavelength of light. This has been the biggest challenge to solar panel manufacturers since the technology first emerged. Well, a new development from scientists at the University of Missouri may have changed all that.
Standard solar cells only have an efficiency of around 15 – 20 percent. Even the newer thin panels can’t do much better than that. New “nantenna” technology may have the answer.
Scientists are claiming that a new device, dubbed the nantenna can capture 90 percent of available light. To do this, a new material has been developed which contains a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna.
The material converts heat to electricity and can be used both for industrial heat recycling and for residential solar panels. It is capable of collecting both visible sunlight and the near infrared band sunlight that traditional solar cells cannot harvest.
One of the lead scientists, Professor Pinhero is now working to turn the nantenna into a commercially viable product. The U.S. Department of Energy and private investors are being asked for funding to accomplish this. Quote courtesy of University of Missouri:
“Our overall goal is to collect and utilize as much solar energy as is theoretically possible and bring it to the commercial market in an inexpensive package that is accessible to everyone,” Professor Pinhero states. ”If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today.”
This new technology could revolutionize the way we harvest solar energy if it’s able to be made commercially available. The ability to harvest 90 percent of light means smaller solar panels, smaller arrays and could really bring solar energy to the masses. The high efficiency would enable those who don’t live in particularly sunny climates to also join the solar revolution. It’s an exciting time!
Of course, there’s no use getting excited just yet. While the theory and laboratory testing seems to bear out the claims, it’s a different matter altogether to be able to bring a product like this to market. Many a great idea has been lost because businesses couldn’t find a way to make money from it.
However, if the product could be made available, and the price is right, things will change very quickly. Once the initial hype has dissipated and the price brought down to reasonable levels, solar panels will really be available to all. Solar will become a realistic alternative energy. Maybe even a replacement for dirty power stations, and even nuclear.