Breakthrough for Solar Power – New Fabrication

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solar1Feb. 27, 2013 — A novel fabrication technique developed by UConn engineering professor Brian Willis could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve today’s solar energy systems.

For years, scientists have studied the potential benefits of a new branch of solar energy technology that relies on incredibly small nanosized antenna arrays that are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power.

The technology would be a vast improvement over the silicon solar panels in widespread use today. Even the best silicon panels collect only about 20 percent of available solar radiation, and separate mechanisms are needed to convert the stored energy to usable electricity for the commercial power grid. The panels’ limited efficiency and expensive development costs have been two of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of solar power as a practical replacement for traditional fossil fuels.

But while nanosized antennas have shown promise in theory, scientists have lacked the technology required to construct and test them. The fabrication process is immensely challenging. The nano-antennas — known as “rectennas” because of their ability to both absorb and rectify solar energy from alternating current to direct current — must be capable of operating at the speed of visible light and be built in such a way that their core pair of electrodes is a mere 1 or 2 nanometers apart, a distance of approximately one millionth of a millimeter, or 30,000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.

Full article in Science Daily

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Michael Collins

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  • That is pretty exciting. Being already past the tipping point on co2, I’m wondering how much difference this will make? Just hope it’s not too little too late…
    @ 70% efficiency this could be a game changer; hurry please…

  • This is awesomely promising, but I won’t hold my breath. I’ve lived through cold fusion, superdupercapacitors, aluminum-air batteries, cheap thin-film photovoltaics, etc. I have breakthrough fatigue, but no breakthroughs so far.

    All the best to those trying to make it work.

  • Financing solar has had its ups and downs over the years.
    I put in about $10000 of solar hot water when the Feds gave a 5% tax credit and NYS gave another 25$. That $2500 investment paid off well, but as governments scramble for funds, even tax deductions are vanishing, much less tax credits.

    Solar PV is more expensive than solar hot water and will be the biggest stumbling block to wide-spread implementation unless the government starts subsidizing it. I recently came across this option, which changes the equation. Instead of investing in nuclear or coal or petro-fueled power plants, invest in solar installations. Not really much different than investing in a company that builds wind-farms, but that technology is about as efficient as it’s ever going to be, whereas PV technology is progressing quickly. And as efficiency rises, smaller installations beoome more practical and eventually more affordable both for massive installations and for individual homeowners.

  • 70% would be fantastic. I will now not be surprised when it happens.

    My contention though, is that our climate problems are not technological nor resource constrained nor even economically constrained but rather politically constrained. Everything we need to run a modern world wide clean energy culture exists now. And while a big part of that culture will include the pleasures of living simply for many many people, I am not even counting that part of the equation in my thinking.

    What I am seeing is evidence of, to coin some phrases, game changing tipping point paradigm shifts. The recent hubbub over Germany getting more sunshine than the U.S. was really about the fact that Germany has been going strong to replace first its nuclear and now its coal as energy sources. It has succeeded so well that those other kinds of energy (fast becoming ‘alternate’) are becoming unprofitable and uncompetitive in the German energy markets. Now the problems in Germany are becoming storage and grid. Like Hawaii, where there are certain places on the grid where they can no longer accept new solar installations, Germany is facing the need to ramp up solar and wind storage and shape the grid to optimize solar and wind rather than the alternates to solar and wind.

    The electric car is one source of electricity storage. Again Germany because of VW’s next generation manufacturing system designed around a single platform for multiple car models irrespective of energy source may find itself in a situation where other car makers and by extension countries will be playing catch-up.

    What I am saying is that as these forces gather, and gather around existing technologies, there could form a rush that could drive gasoline prices down into collapse. And not 30 years out but 15.

    While we are in the throes of climate change right now, we can still make huge differences in the ultimate impacts of those changes.

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