Imagine recharging your iPad from the jacket on your back. Or running the PC on your desk from the drapes covering the adjacent window.
Writing in Nature Materials, CalTech scientists say they have the underlying technology. Silicon nanowires, arranged in arrays, have been engineered that not only grab power from visible light but from infrared as well.
In immediate practical terms, this means "a cell geometry that not only uses 1/100th the material of traditional wafer-based devices, but also may offer increased photovoltaic efficiency owing to an effective optical concentration of up to 20 times."
In other words, more efficient cells solar cells made with a lot less material.
Flexible solar cells are already being made in Germany and Japan, but they are inefficient. CalTech's cells have efficiency comparable to solar panels now being installed on roofs.
In addition to showing efficiency and low cost, the research also points to a new way of making viable solar cells.
One way to make a matrix out of wires is to call them thread and weave them.
If nanowires can be woven into a viable matrix, combined with other material, it means fabrics can double as solar connectors, once they have a way to off-load the power they create.
In the near term it could mean shingles could double as solar collectors. In the longer term it could mean other fabrics could have solar energy collection woven into them.
It would be ironic if looms won the energy game, but that's what makes this age so exciting.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com