From PhysOrg.com (though I’ve found this news all over the wires), news that research teams from New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University are making progress on the efficiency of plastic organic solar cells:
The relatively low energy efficiency levels produced by organic solar cells have been a drawback. To be effective producers of energy, they must be able to convert 10 percent of the energy in sunlight to electricity. Typical silicon panels are about 12 percent energy conversion efficient.
That level of energy conversion has been a difficult reach for researchers on organic solar technology, with many of them hitting about 3 to 4 percent. But the NMSU/Wake Forest team has achieved a solar energy efficiency level of 5.2 percent. The announcement was made at the Santa Fe Workshop on Nanoengineered Materials and Macro-Molecular Technologies.
“This means we are closer to making organic solar cells that are available on the market,” [physicist and head of the nanotechnology laboratory at NMSU Seamus] Curran said.
Conventional thinking has been that that landmark was at least a decade away. With this group’s research, it may be only four or five years before plastic solar cells are a reality for consumers, Curran added.
The importance of the breakthrough cannot be underestimated, Curran said.
“We need to look into alternative energy sources if the United States is to reduce its dependence on foreign sources,” the NMSU physics professor said.
Once such products become widely available, I’d imagine we’ll reach a point of “Katie bar the door,” as my father likes to say: price and availability seem to be the real drawbacks to going solar for individual home and business owners, and this development would address both of those concerns. Seeing how demand is rising quickly despite these barriers, developments like these should provide an inevitable tipping point.
UPDATE: Of course, Jamais beat me to the punch on this one (not that I’m competitive or anything…). Maybe one day…