Princeton University recently announced a new nanotechnology that has demonstrated the ability to triple the efficiency of solar cells by eliminating two of the primary reasons why light is reflected or lost. This breakthrough was achieved by applying a "nano-mesh" to plastics, which would make way for inexpensive, flexible devices, or even greatly improve the efficiency of standard photovoltaic panels, the researchers say.
The nano-mesh is designed to dampen reflection and trap light to be converted into electrical energy (existing technologies cannot fully capture light that enters the cell). Only 4 percent of light is reflected, and as much as 96 percent is absorbed, a press release noted. Its overall efficiency in converting light to energy is 52 percent higher than conventional cells in direct sunlight and up to 175 percent greater on cloudy days with less sun.
Outside of the lab, U.S. PV maker ecoSolargy has already used nanotechnology to boost solar efficiency by an estimated 35 percent over a 20-year period by filling tiny holes that can accumulate dirt, dust, or water. Other approaches to improve solar efficiency have been inspired by nature.
A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently created a design that emulates how sunflowers move to maximize light exposure through an adaptation called heliotropism. One could imagine that any combination of these technologies would constitute another leap forward for solar power.