Sunlight has never really caught fire as a power source, mostly because generating electricity with solar cells is more expensive and less efficient than some conventional sources.
But a new solar panel unveiled this month by the Georgia Tech Research Institute hopes to brighten the future of the energy source.
The difference is in the design. Traditional solar panels are often flat and bulky. The new design features an array of nano-towers — like microscopic blades of grass — that add surface area and trap more sunlight.
"It allows more opportunities for the photon to hit the part of the cell that creates electricity," said Jud Ready, the senior research engineer who invented the panel.
And that has resulted in a big jump in current generated. Ready said the three-dimensional panels produce about 60 times more than traditional solar cells.
But current is only half the equation. To generate electricity, a cell has to churn out voltage as well.
And so far, that's where Ready's invention has fallen short. There's still too much resistance within the cell to produce the type of electricity that's needed. But he said he'll now focus on reworking the interface to smooth out the kinks.
The research is funded in part by the Air Force, which hopes smaller, more efficient panels can be used to power satellites and spacecraft in the future. But Ready said the technology could also eventually earn more widespread use as a lightweight and more efficient alternative.
"We've demonstrated that it works pretty well," he said. "Now we must tweak it and make it better."