Science Scope

Top 10 solar power advances to watch

Posting in Design

Researchers have discovered new ways to produce cheaper, more efficient solar power. Here are 10 recent advances, from the evolutionary to the revolutionary.

The mere thought of converting sunlight into electricity in a cheap, efficient way has had researchers salivating for years.

Recently, though, there have been several solar power advances worth noting -- from the evolutionary to the revolutionary.

One such effort, for example: The Desertec Industrial Initiative, an ambitious plan to build concentrated solar power (CSP) plants in the Sahara desert to satisfy Europe's demand for power.

For a region that's been hit hard by a drawn-out recession, it may fuel a revival. The $400 billion project is being funded by 10 major companies, including Siemens and Deutsche Bank.

Within 40 years, Europe hopes to produce 15 percent of its electricity this way.

Clearly, making solar power a viable renewable energy source is a top priority for many companies and nations.

So here's a round up of the Top 10 most recent developments in solar power:

  1. Pokeberries: The red dye from pokeberries can be used to coat fiber-based solar cells. It's a good absorber and helps the solar cell capture more sunlight to turn into solar power. Pokeberries can be grown in any climate, so people living in developing countries can easily cultivate the plant and make affordable solar power possible.
  2. Thin-film technology: This tech uses micro-reactors to reduce waste and lower costs.
  3. Cow brain protein: Why not? An abundance of an important protein provides the framework for better batteries and solar cells.
  4. Highly-efficient solar concentrator design: A new design collects more rays with thousands of small lenses on a single sheet.
  5. Silicon ink-based solar cells: Startup Innovalight set a record for efficiency at 19 percent conversion efficiency. The company has more than 60 silicon ink-related patents.
  6. Solar fuels: These use concentrated solar radiation to drive high-temperature endothermic reactions to improve efficiencies.
  7. Giant gravel batteries: Such batteries could be used to store energy when the sun goes down.
  8. Concentrated solar power plants: As mentioned above, highly photovoltaic solar cells can generate electricity. It can also supply the need for renewable sources of desalinated water.
  9. The largest solar-power tower in the world. This structure runs on the sun and air and does not need water to generate electricity. Thanks, Brayton cycle!
  10. Eco-etiquette. Solar power isn't that perfect. Several startups are working to eliminate inefficiencies in it.

Also, the world's first solar airplane just took flight — which just goes to show that solar cells aren't only destined to be planted on the ground. (Plus, Japan is sending a solar-powered "sail craft" into space.)

The only thing limiting the application of solar cells? Our imagination.

Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure