Aug 27, 2009 | 29
Here's a seemingly simple solar power fact*: the sun bathes Earth with enough energy in one hour (4.3 x 1020 joules) to more than fill all of humanity's present energy use in a year (4.1 x 1020 joules). So how to convert it? In the world of solar energy harvesting, there's a constant battle between cost and efficiency. On the one hand, complex and expensive triple-junction photovoltaic cells can turn more than 40 percent of the (specially concentrated) sunlight that falls on them into electricity. On the other, cheap, plastic solar cells under development convert less than 5 percent.
In between, ubiquitous photovoltaics—the multicrystalline silicon solar panels cropping up on rooftops across the country and, indeed, the world—struggle to balance the need for (relatively) easy manufacturing and low cost with technology to get the most electrons for your solar buck.
May 15, 2009 | 45
If solar power is ever going to take off—and the world needs it to—photovoltaic cells will have to become a whole lot cheaper to produce.
Making solar cells from silicon, the most common approach, can be expensive and relatively inefficient at turning sunlight into electricity. As semiconductor manufacturer Applied Materials chief technology officer Mark Pinto told me last year: "With solar, it's all about cost."
But there are signs of improvement, writes Richard Swanson of SunPower Corp. in this week's Science. Last year, manufacturers made 5 gigawatts of photovoltaic panels. And some of these panels required just under six grams of silicon per watt of power—down from 15 grams at the turn of the century. And that watt of power now costs around $1.40 to produce compared with $2 or more in the 1990s.
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Conventional washing machines cause excessive damage and wrinkling to clothes primarily during the water removal step. With the introduc
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