Thursday, February 7, 2008

Solar panels that work in the dark

The biggest problem with the sun is that it's not always around. And during the winter months it behaves like an absentee landlord and shows up only for a few hours.

Unfortunately, solar panels must contend with this erratic behavior if they are to save us from ourselves. If only there was a panel that worked in the dark...Well, guess what? It looks like we might now be on the brink of technology that effectively deals with sun's temperament.

Thanks to the wonders of nanotechnology and, in no small part the efforts of Steven Novack of the Idaho National Laboratories, there are now foldable panels that operate at 80 percent efficiency. Conventional photovoltaics yield only about 40 percent. But as EcoGeek explains, "the surface of the material is printed with miniscule nano-antennae that capture infra-red radiation, the kind that the sun puts out in abundance, and is even available at night."

Scientists are still working on converting the light into those hard working electrons. However, they already envision a tiny capacitor that will capture the energy without sacrificing too much in the way of cost or efficiency.

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