‘Soft cell’ solar energy shows promise

With the emphasis that President Obama has put on renewable sources of energy, and the money being poured into such endeavors through the Stimulus Plan, we have all become, at least relatively, indoctrinated with the debate around solar energy.


Two of the main problems with solar energy are efficiency and space. Conventional solar power can only harness a small percentage of the light that hits it’s surface, and can convert even less of that to usable energy. Also, the space required to make a field of solar panels that could provide substantial and adequate energy is ridiculously high, especially considering areas like the Pacific Northwest, where we do not get constant intense sunlight. Some estimates are as high as 15-20% of the total area of the Pacific Northwest, just to meet current energy demands.

In order to make this type of renewable energy feasible, something must be done to reduce these inefficiencies.

One promising solution comes from the development of maleable, super-thin ‘soft cell’ solar collectors. While still in the development stage, ‘soft cells’ show such promise as they can be bent to fit the contours of existing building-tops, walls, frescoes, etc. They could also potentially be put on windows and doors. This means that, while their overall efficiency is almost the same as that of ‘hard cell’ collectors, they can be molded to fit our lifestyle, thereby reducing our dependance on conventional sources of energy without requiring additional time/labor/space constraints.

Here’s a short synopsis of the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ cells:

The key is that although these cells are merely as efficient as conventional devices, they use only about a hundredth of the material. What’s more, they are highly flexible: grown on a bed of silicon, Atwater’s microrod arrays can simply be peeled off and stuck pretty much wherever you want. “They could even be integrated into buildings, as components that match the shape of roof tiles,” says Atwater. He has started up a company, Alta Devices, to do just that, and has recently received research funding from the US Department of Energy.

Read the full article at newscientist.com


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