A researcher at the University of Missouri is making some eyebrow-raising claims, including that a new technology he has developed could lead to solar panels that convert 90 percent of the sun's energy to electricity.
If he's even a little bit right, this would be more than amazing; it would be earth-shattering. So he's probably wrong, unfortunately. But let's suspend disbelief, shall we?
The average plant converts about 1 percent of the sun's energy. That's one reason why conventional biofuels are kind of a joke. A good solar panel will convert around 20 percent of the sun's energy into electricity.
The way that UM researcher Patrick Pinhero proposes to take that efficiency into the stratosphere is by capturing parts of the spectrum of light we can't even see — like the infrared. He'll do it with these really tiny antennas carved into silicon, called nantennas. He says he can have a commercial product in 5 years, as long as he can get funding to commercialize them (hint hint).
The main thing that nantennas illustrate is that unlike many other energy technologies (wind, nuclear) solar is far from "mature." It has a long, long ramp of improvements in front of it, which means that it will only become cheaper, more effective and — in a future in which distributed power production rules — dominant.