Investors pouring millions into new nanotech solar-energy firms

A merger of cutting-edge nanotechnology with the earth’s oldest power source may revolutionize clean energy. At least three U.S. start-ups are aiming to develop thin, flexible sheets of tiny solar cells for the mass market. If perfected, the companies say, these nano-cells would catapult solar to the forefront of clean-energy generation: they’d not only cost much less to produce than current solar panels, but would provide electricity as cheaply as average utilities do now, about $1 per watt. It may take five years or more before the technologies are perfected for mass production, but investors are enthusiastic — the three companies have collectively raised more than $120 million in funding since 2001. A report from the Energy Foundation suggests that cost-effective solar could provide much of the nation’s electricity if available rooftop space is more fully utilized, and claims that the market for such technology might be $6.6 billion a year.