A new type of experimental photo-voltaic cell has been developed by Spectrolab, Inc, a subsidiary of Boeing. The new cells concentrate the sun’s rays using mirrors in order to extract 40% of the energy from a higher-intensity beam.
It’s a far cry from the almost perfect efficiency that plants get using photosynthesis, but 40% is pretty good by human standards. The scientists who developed the cells say that the new method puts 50% efficiency within reach.
It’s important to note, though, that this breakthrough is largely the result of government research funding. It’s great that we’re seeing progress, but so far the private sector has failed to show leadership on alternative energy. Imagine if every dollar currently invested in new dirty coal plants and waste-producing nuclear projects was poured into deploying high-efficiency alternative energy solutions on a massive scale. The technology has arrived, so where’s the welcoming committee?