I have no idea exactly how good 26 per cent efficiency is in the overall scheme of things, but apparently it whipped the old record of 15 percent and means we are at last knocking on the door of small power heaven.
Which also means that as soon as these solar cells, which work indoors for goodness sake, can be incorporated into the design of hand-held devices such as phones and cameras, it will surely sound the death knell for the cumbersome world of leads, chargers and disposable batteries.
Just imagine how many tons of carbon that would save being spewed into the air.
And if the company’s confidence that 40 per cent efficiency is also achievable in the foreseeable, the cells may soon be powering our mid-sized gadgets, such as laptops, satellite navigation systems for cars (currently mainly petrol-fuelled), home music appliances. Even TVs and desktop computers.
That, as they are wont to say in America, would be a game changer for sure.
A world without plugs. Without wiring. Without circuit boards.
(“It’s easy if you try…”)
Okay, I’m pushing it a bit here, but what about a world where you don’t have to try and figure out how it is exactly that power leads manage to tie themselves in knots the moment you turn your back on them? (“Wait for, wait for it…..he’s out of the room, okay, let’s bundle!)
The technology behind the breakthrough apparently involves using dye-sensitised cells to partially imitate the process of photosynthesis and generate energy from low-level indoor light. A type of magic if you like.
Not that this is a brand new magic. I still have in my possession a solar-powered calculator from the early 90s. It was impressive then, and still is. But the expected morph into some of our more thirsty appliances, has, for reasons best known to the wizards, been a long time coming.
And if powering our small and mid-sized appliances directly from indoor light really is just around the corner, the benefits in terms of power savings could be enormous.
Take for example a standard wide screen LCD TV. In Europe alone there are about 200 million of them, each drinking about 600 kilowatt hours of power from the grid every year. That’s 120 million megawatt hours between them. Roughly speaking, 27 coal-powered power stations.
And that’s just the televisions and just in Europe.
The design, which has taken many years to develop, won Prof Graetzel the 2012 Albert Einstein World Award of Science and the 2010 Millennium Technology Prize. Top man, well done.
I think, from a marketing point of view, that the very first domestic appliance they should start powering, for maximum cool, is a drinks chiller. A few strips of wonder cells, some recycled insulation and hey presto, bob’s your uncle, the best Christmas present ever. Perfectly chilled chardonnay, courtesy of the sun. (I’ll settle for 10 per cent by the way, if anyone’s reading this). And then when nobody’s talking about anything else, launch the other more useful stuff.
But, and I hate to finish on a negative note here, there is a downside. Can you imagine how horrific a kid’s toy shop would be if, with the aid of a few well placed solar strips, every single toy, game and teddy bear could suddenly talk? Or even shuffle towards you with their eyes closed and their little paws outstretched, chanting, “Where is our friend, the little koala bear you had when you were 8, Karl the Koala, what have you done with him? Death to the bear killer, death, death, death….”
Or is that just me?
Joe Swain, Editor, 2050magazine.com