It seems that every week a new advance in solar energy has been brought about through the application of nanotechnology. The latest breakthrough is the production of nanotubes which are set up as antennae, directing light through a complicated process so that it becomes stronger at the surface of the solar cell.
The key to this technology is the use of “excitons.” These are basically electrons which have been raised to a higher level of excitement (by the light, the photons). They travel along the nanotubes to the surface of the solar panel in a sort of funnelling effect, coming together at the surface of the solar cell and intensifying the energy it receives. This means that the solar cell will in effect become more powerful. In fact it has been estimated that this procedure could make solar panels up to one hundred times more powerful.
Due to this funnelling effect, it means in terms of the manufacturing of solar cells, they could be made a lot smaller. This, in turn, means they will become easier to manufacture, there will be more flexibility on where and how they are installed and could mean they will cost less as well.
Since the technology is so small, it could be sprayed onto a cell, and although there has been no mention of this possibility in particular, presumably this means that existing PV cells could have this applied in order to have their power increased.
They are still some way from being able to build a device using this technology however, which could take up to two years. They will also be working on making it more efficient, as they aim to be able to generate multiple excitons per photon. This could mean that they will be able to reduce the amount of energy lost to under 1%, making them extremely efficient.
The team developing this substance comes from the prestigious MIT institute in the US. This is also where the solar cells which are able to repair themselves, based on the process that plants use, were also developed. We reported on this last week.
The advancements in nanotechnology in support of solar energy are coming thick and fast. There will undoubtedly be more developments in the near future which we will keep you up to date with. This is a very exciting time to be involved in solar energy. If you happen to be thinking that you want to get involved and get solar panels installed on your roof but don’t know if you should wait for the new technology, then our advice would be not to wait. There will always be better technology just around the corner but if you are waiting for the perfect technology you will be waiting a long time. Also, for concepts to go from research to commercial viability can take a long time, so even the developments which we report on here may not be put into practice for some time.
The solar cells we have right now however do a very good job, will save you money on your energy bill and help to save the planet from the over use of fossil fuels as well. It might seem that you are only one person so only have a very small part to play, but if the use of nanotechnology teaches us anything, it is that very small parts working together can produce remarkable results.