Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beyond the Hype, Solar Power Advances

small solar collectors in a line
Originally uploaded by Kel Patolog

The convergence of technology advances and rising fossil fuel prices is bringing the potential of solar power into sharp focus, both literally and figuratively. Discoveries from researchers at MIT promise to boost the efficiency of solar panels by concentrating the sun's rays, a measure that will help bring down the cost of panels considerably.

In a Boston Globe article, Innovation fuels solar power drive, journalist Carolyn Y. Johnson writes of the MIT study:

The work by Mapel and others could potentially do both, by using a simple trick that makes more efficient use of sunlight and uses fewer costly solar cells.

Solar cells are made from different materials that each operate most efficiently when using light from a narrow band of wavelengths. By filtering the light through a pane of glass coated with dye, Mapel and his colleagues have been able to direct some light to solar cells that can use it most efficiently. Those cells are placed on the edge of the pane, requiring far fewer solar cells than if they were placed along the surface as on conventional panels.

The remaining light passes through the pane and, if placed on a conventional solar panel, can be converted to electricity.

The researchers found that their setup increased the efficiency of traditional panels by about 20 percent, but they believe that with a little more tweaking, they can boost that to 50 percent.

Solar power, by its nature, presents a different perspective on solving our individual and community power needs. Microgeneration technologies are gaining favor worldwide and given the slow response by many governments to dealing with CO2 reduction, many businesses, individuals, and communities are taking the initiative to deploy their own power generation systems.