Solar power is all the rage these days when it comes to building green. And one group hoping to remain on the forefront of innovation is the Palo Alto Research Center or PARC, the storied research facility in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley.
In a recent display of “next generation” technology, PARC researchers’ unveiled new gadgets and gizmos boasting the latest technology poised to make a splash as they come to market over the next year or so.
One of the major “advancements” on display was a new way to collect and use solar energy. Instead of huge rows of solar panels now being used around the world, PARC has just begun to market a series of convex mirrors that focus sunlight onto small silicon chips. The physical space these solar cells require on a building is similar to conventional solar panels, said Nitin Parekh, a PARC director, “but they are 500 times more efficient than current solar panels.” The efficiency, combined with advances in manufacturing processes, also make the panels more cost-effective than current solar panels.
Building the miniature chips on top of tracking motors that follow the path of the sun increases their efficiency. Parekh predicted this second generation of panels will be integrated into the marketplace quickly and that they will surpass conventional solar panel technology by 2015 or 2020.
Parekh predicts PARC’s solar panels will generate a following among major builders, because, he said, “PARC leveraged its internal expertise to develop manufacturable and cost-effective products from day one.”
This is no idle boast. New innovations introduced to the world from the storied PARC center include the computer mouse, the laser printer and the Ethernet.
The new solar panel design is shaped like a miniaturized cereal bowl, with 1mm x 1mm pieces of plastic, each containing an even smaller piece of silicone. When put together, they offer a huge increase in efficiency and output compared to standard, commercially available solar panels on the market today.
Marty Orgel is a San Francisco Bay Area writer who also reports for www.MarketWatch.com and www.PCMag.com.