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Solar Potential Where Least Expected

Sometimes renewable energy innovations show up in the least expected ways. Solar advances have faced many obstacles over the years, yet scientists continue developing many surprising solutions. The newest innovations include new glass surface structures, new coatings to help push solar power’s many benefits to their fullest potential, and even a new iPad case that incorporates a solar cell to help keep peripherals charged while working. There are many exciting breakthroughs in the works that continue to improve the conversion of solar energy into usable electricity.

Scientists at the University of Southern California have created a new type of solar cell made from nanocrystals so small that they can be made into an ink and painted or printed onto clear surfaces like plastic. Once coated, the plastic can be bent and shaped to fit almost anywhere. These liquid nanocrystals are even less expensive to produce than traditional silicon wafer solar cells.

Another interesting finding out of MIT involves a new nanotextured glass made with an array of conical features on its surface. This new glass more easily absorbs sunlight compared to conventional glass (which can reflect nearly 50% of the light that hits it). This ultimately raises the possibility of making solar panels much more effective, especially at lower light angles during the early morning and late afternoon.  Plus, this nanotextured surface causes water droplets to bounce right off, reducing fogging and keeping the surface cleaner, longer.

How about harnessing the power of the sun to keep ubiquitous consumer electronics charged up longer? Logitech recently launched its Solar Keyboard Folio that serves as a protective case and will recharge the device’s Bluetooth keyboard while you work. They claim it can last up to two years when fully charged with just two hours of usage a day.

It is only a matter of time before such solar friendly materials and devices are increasingly integrated with our everyday lives. With the exception of the solar rechargeable iPad case, the commercialization of some of these advances is still years away. Considering the many uses for improved glass structure and paintable solar cells, in the future virtually any surface will help turn sunlight into energy.

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