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While it remains a small part of the overall energy mix in the United States, solar technology is rapidly improving. Two new developments point to where it may be headed in the future.
The first of these is the prototype Enfocus solar skylight, which Google plans to install at one of its Silicon Valley facilities. This product distributes natural light while also acting as a solar cell, generating electricity. Special lenses ensure the even distribution of light, eliminating the uncomfortable hot spots that once caused some productivity-minded businesses to avoid installing skylights altogether.
In another exciting development, MIT has announced the invention of a “solar” generator that doesn’t require light at all. This technology, which is in the early stages, uses precisely engineered nano-pockets to channel heat energy into wavelengths of light that can be transformed into electricity. MIT researchers have also made a button-sized power generator that is fueled by butane and can run three times longer than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight. It can also be instantly recharged, by removing the spent fuel generator and replacing it with a new one.
As with any new technology obstacles of scale, efficiency, cost, and marketing need to be overcome before these solutions become widespread. Even so, they are exciting examples of new technological developments.
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