Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love – Solar Photovoltaic Panels

Exciting solar news is coming out of MIT, the kind of inventive stuff that would make Thomas Edison proud.

How about two-part solar photovoltaic panels: the regular part we already know where the tiny solar cells within each panel captures the visible part of the incoming light; and then a new twist by MIT involving a film of carbon nanotubes? Much more of the sun’s energy could then be captured for the same size solar panel. The carbon-based cell is most effective at capturing sunlight in the near-infrared region-currently not attainable with traditional solar panels. Because the MIT nano material is transparent to visible light, such lightweight and thin films could be overlaid on conventional solar cells, creating a tandem device that could harness most of the energy of sunlight. Think of an optical sieve, where each of the two layers [nano tubes and conventional] would strain out that portion of sunlight to which it is attuned.

The new photovoltaic solar panel inner workings combines buckyball configurations (pictured) with carbon nano tubes.

The new photovoltaic solar panel inner workings combines buckyball configurations (pictured) with carbon nano tubes.

More work needs to be done at MIT, but since 40% of the sun’s free energy lies in the near-infrared part of the sun’s spectrum, this is big news for the solar industry. This could double solar panel efficiencies; and radically increase the economics of solar photovoltaic systems.

Inventions Thomas Edison Would Love - Solar Photovoltaic PanelsMore news out of MIT … how about stacking solar cells in an accordion configuration—a 3D cell and panel system? It works, and its surface footprint is no larger than convention systems today, but you get much more energy out of the stacks within a solar panel—anywhere from 2-20 times as much. That is a big improvement and a real economic boost to the economics of solar.

These 3D cell stacks produce lots of extra power whenever the sun is near the horizon, i.e. in the morning, evening, winter, or at latitudes far away from the equator. With conventional panels, it’s hard to capture low-angle light, but with an accordion cell structure inside each panel, this is not a problem. At MIT, researchers have optimized a 3D configuration of the cells within the panels.

Can you just see Thomas Edison, a 1920s advocate of solar and wind technologies, smiling at these two innovations! By the way, his son Theodore went to MIT, and he like his father was an inventor too; and also most likely smiling about this as well.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves….”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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2 Comments

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