There was much in the news this week about alternative energy—here are just a few of the highlights…

The technology to capture solar power is becoming much more sophisticated. New Scientist has an article today called “Work light twice as hard to make cheap solar cells,” that mentions how far solar has come:

In 1961, semiconductor pioneers William Shockley and Hans Queisser  showed that [several] factors limited single solar cells to converting no more than 31 per cent of incident solar energy to electrical energy. But around a decade ago Martin Green of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, challenged that orthodoxy. He suggested the third generation of solar cells could break the 31 per cent barrier.

Stanford engineers published one of those new technologies this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—solar cells thinner than wavelengths of light. From the Stanford Report:

Their research shows that light ricocheting around inside the polymer film of a solar cell behaves differently when the film is ultra thin. A film that's nanoscale-thin and has been roughed up a bit can absorb more than 10 times the energy predicted by conventional theory.

Another new solar technology published this week—buckyballs. From the press release:

One approach uses a light-absorbing polymer along with a derivative of a sixty-carbon fullerene molecule, commonly known as a buckyball. For maximum efficiency, the two materials must be present in thin layers near opposite electrodes but most analytical methods cannot distinguish between polymer and the buckyball well enough to characterize the plastic solar cell film.

And existing solar cell technology is getting smarter. One of the problems with solar power is that cloud cover can make the intake inconsistent. But new technology will allow solar panels to track cloud movement. Researchers at UC Merced received a grant to make this technology a reality. From the New York Times:

The grant, announced earlier this year, will be used to develop a network of sensors to collect data on solar irradiance and to track cloud cover, water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, all of which can affect the amount of sunlight reaching solar cells.

Even small scale wind power made the news this week. A small, ancient town in Italy has four wind turbines—enough to power their village and sell off the surplus to fund community rebuilding projects.

From the small to the huge: a space-based solar sail, that combines wind and solar, from Discovery News:

Using a massive 8,400-kilometer-wide (5,220-mile-wide) solar sail to harvest the power in solar wind, the team hopes their concept could generate 1 billion billion gigawatts of power, far more power than humanity needs -- if they can get that power back to Earth.

Wow! The possibilities are endless…

Image by alforesm

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