“The technology you see on current rooftops is silicon-wafer technology. There are several problems with that. The cost is pretty high,” says Professor Yang.
"Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible. More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at a low cost."
So could Yang’s breakthrough one day supply all our energy needs?
“I don’t think there is a single technology that can replace fossil fuels,” Yang says. “We might have a combination of different technologies. Solar might be used alongside bio-fuels for example.”
Or combinations of different solar technologies might be used to enhance energy collection and storage. For example, highly efficient, but expensive, silicon wafer technology could be used alongside cost-effective transparent panels. It’s a win-win.
Second Hand Daylight
Some innovations in solar are decidedly less high tech — but just as clever. Daylighting, for example, is an ingenious solution. Channeling natural light deep into buildings, it literally brings the outside in.
“A novel approach to new construction integrates light-conducting cones, called 'winston cones,' into the concrete walls of tall buildings,” says UC Merced’s Winston, who has co-authored several papers looking at this deceptively simple technology.
First conceived by Dr. Winston in 1970, the cones concentrate light from large, exterior openings, to a smaller, interior focal point. The technology has been developed by a partnership between colleagues at UC Berkeley and Singapore.
Using daylight inside buildings isn’t a new idea—we’ve had skylights and atriums as architectural elements for centuries. But daylighting extends the concept in new ways, inspired by the desire to conserve energy.