Glimpsing the Future of Solar Energy

15 Sep

One thing I like about being a science writer, and about writing a book about renewable energy, is that I get to talk with (and learn from) some of the smartest people on the planet.

For example, this morning I spoke with Michael Strano, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT.  After a twenty minute phone call, I came away with nothing less than a glimpse into the future of solar energy.

Strano works with carbon nanotubes–tiny, microns-wide structures that can channel atomic and subatomic particles in ways that have all sorts of industrial and technological applications.  I was interested in Strano’s work on using carbon nanotubes to enhance the absorptive power and hence efficiency of solar cells.  The science is complex, but in a nutshell in involves using carbon nanotubes as antenna or funnels to attract and channel sunlight in concentrated form onto the semiconducting surface of a solar cell.

The implications of this research are far reaching.  One of the holy grails of solar PV research is figuring out ways to make solar cells more powerful and efficient without making them more expensive.  Some solutions involve using mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto PV panels or boilers.  Strano’s method does essentially the same thing, only without the need for expensive and delicate mirrors.

Carbon nanotubes are relatively easy and inexpensive to make.  Large companies like Bayer are not manufacturing them in bulk for all sorts of commercial purposes.  PV cells enhanced with carbon nanotubes are still a ways off, but if what Strano was telling me is accurate, they’re coming.  And they very might might blaze an entirely new path in solar PV development.

You can listen to my interview with Strano here.  And learn more about Strano’s research here.


6 Responses to “Glimpsing the Future of Solar Energy”

  1. Tapsiri May 23, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Executive SummarySoletev is a new business priondivg high-quality, full service distribution of solar systems, electric vehicles, electric charge stations and energy storage, specialty solar energy and electric vehicles-related supplies to off grid solar systems to home business users electric vehicles with electric charge stations throughout Southern California SE Asia markets.The principal owners are Tung Vo and Hanh Nguyen, whose combined experience brings office management, high levels of customer service, and over 20 years in marketing and sales management. At this time we are seeking additional equity capital to compliment our own investment and are seeking to arrange a bank line for working capital and receivables financing. We have firm commitments to distribute several high-quality new age off grid solar systems, energy storage, electric vehicles charge EV stations, and have verbal commitments from independent distributors wholesalers throughout the Southern California SE Asia to carry our products. We currently have three solar system modules; M-24-00, M-24-01 M-24-02 and two electric scooters in our branch office in Tan Phu, Vietnam for the demonstration of their functionalities. We plan to distribute our first products within 90-180 days of finalizing financials arrangements.Sales projections for Soletev are estimated to begin at approximately $3,904,360 the first year, increasing to approximately $7,808,720 in Year 2 and approximately $11,713,080 in Year 3. Our net profit is projected at approximately $780,872 the first year, increasing to $2,342,616 by the end of the third year of operation. This based on a 20% net profit margin.Distinguishing characteristics of our business will be the combination of management experience, sales and distribution networking relation in SE Asia, high-quality, innovative products and exceptional customer service. In particular, what really sets up apart is that we are the ONLY exclusive distribution company for MCV of San Diego, BYD of Southern California, SI of Shanghai, China ZEV Corporation of West Virginia for Southern California SE Asia distributing solar systems, solar energy storage, electric vehicles and electric charge stations. In addition, Soletev is going to partner with Minh Anh Corporation Thuy Tien Group to manufacture our own high end but very affordable all electric scooters for Vietnam market using US high quality specs. 1.1 Objectives•To open and operate a successful distribution company for solar technologies including solar systems, solar energy storage, electric vehicles charge stations and all electric vehicles in the Southern California and SE Asia market•To employing eight to fifteen employees the first year.•To obtain at least 1 main distributor and/or 1 wholesaler for one of the 6 countries; USA, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia Philippines the first year of operation.•Sell a minimum of 300 solar systems,120 e-scooters, 2 energy storage 4 EV stations.•Achieve first year sales of $3,904,360 and maintain gross profit margin of 20%.•To produce a net profit of at least $780,872 by the end of the first year of operation.•To break even end of first year of operation maintain 20% net profit margin thereafter.

  2. scott weitzman September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    I would love to have you become a contributor on SolarFeeds…great stuff here and we can help your upcoming book get some exposure. Please email me to discuss. thank you…

    scott w

  3. rojelio September 17, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Speaking of cool ideas like what was mentioned above, check out There’s a video library on the front of the webpage that you can click on and check out tons of amazingly cool ideas as well as well as explanations for basic things like how wave energy works, etc….

  4. Eric Metcalf September 15, 2010 at 4:22 am #

    I’ve wondered whether nanotubes could be used to produce hydrogen from water. Picture a large vat of water, with a screen made of nanotubes at the bottom. Under pressure, the water is forced against the screen, splitting up the water molecules and allowing the hydrogen to be harvested. But I’m sure smarter minds have considered it and ruled it out.

    • jnshere September 15, 2010 at 4:31 am #

      Interesting thought. I wouldn’t assume that this idea has already been discarded. Nanotubes are still in the early stages of being adopted for commercial uses, so maybe this is in the works or scientists just haven’t yet quite figured out how to make this work.

    • rojelio September 17, 2010 at 5:41 am #

      Yes, it can be done. I’m not a physicist, but I believe that the bottleneck is that hydrogen is a stored form of energy, not readily usable energy. Thus, making hydrogen from diffuse and expensive renewable energies is an uphill battle, both financially and thermodynamically. However, once the prices and efficiency of PV generation come down significantly, numerous applications like the one you envision will go ballistic seemingly overnight. Personally, I’m so impatient for all of this and frustrated politically etc…..but I think the number 1 battle right now is to get PV prices down.

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