Future


a single silicon molecule
The solar industry in the United States has been growing steadily in recent years and is expected to continue on that track. (img source)

Solar energy is becoming more efficient, more affordable, and more prevalent than it ever has been, thanks in large part to the public’s increasing interest and understanding of going green and clean energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Adminisration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report (PDF), renewable energy is a booming market throughout the world, “increasing by an average of 3.0 percent per year from 2010 to 2035....”

Swedish physicists from Lund University announced the results of their first study of nanowire cells in a January article in the journal Science. The cells exceeded expectations: they hoped to convert 10 percent of available sunlight into energy and instead the cells have rates as high as 13.8 percent.

Nanowires cells covering just 10 percent of a surface produced as much power as similar materials in non-nanowire cells covering the entire surface. Essentially, if solar power were a 10-slice pizza, a single nanowire cell slice would fill you up, but you would have to eat the entire traditional cell pie to get the same result!

In February 2013, Spanish researchers from Institute of Photonic Sciences published a study online in Nature Physics. The study found that graphene is great at dislodging electrons – a key step in the photovoltaic effect – and for every photon that hit the graphene in the cells, multiple electrons were disrupted. Because of this, they predicted graphene solar cells could convert up to 60% of the sunlight absorbed into electricity.

Friendly reminder: even the best solar tech available right now can convert no more than about 40% of available sunlight.