(NEW YORK) -- Solar panels are an environmentalist’s dream; they harness limitless electricity from the sun with no air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions. But they’ve had a hard time competing with coal, natural gas, oil and other sources of energy. So can that change?
A company called Natcore Technology says it may be on to something. It reports it has developed “absolute black” silicon wafers for solar panels that will absorb 99.7 percent of the visible light falling on them. The most efficient solar panels devised up to now have been able to absorb 96 percent. In a business where every photon counts, Natcore said the difference could be important.
“One of the ways this matters,” said Chuck Provini, the company’s CEO, “is that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the electricity you get on a sunny day versus a cloudy day. Diffused light won’t matter that much.”
The new panels, Provini said, will be safer to produce and help drive down the price of solar energy.
“Black silicon will improve power output and reduce cost -- the two things that matter most,” he said.
“Solar has changed a lot in the last few years,” said Monique Hanis of the Solar Energy Industries Association in an email. “As of 2011, there are 100,000 Americans working in solar [according to The Solar Foundation's 2011 Jobs Census] at 5,600 companies across all 50 states, including many small business. Solar installations doubled in 2011 and there are enough projects in the pipeline to power two million households.”
Solar power remains a small part of the nation’s energy mix, but high oil prices give it new visibility. Natcore hopes to be making solar panels from its new wafers in four to six weeks.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio