The Super Soaker and the Solar Revolution


Here comes the Sun. Hot on the heels of 2007 being one of the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest years, we’re about to enjoy a solar energy revolution.

California company Nanosolar have started to manufacture mass-produced solar cells on a roll of aluminium film. Each printed photovoltaic wafer will be flexible, light and possibly as inexpensive at 99 cents – which nicely challenges the major stumbling-block of solar power as a viable alternative energy source, cost (typically three times that of traditional methods). On paper, this makes for good value.

And what about the other major problem – efficiency? Solar energy conversion is notoriously inefficient, ranging from 6% for amorphous silicon-based cells to cutting-edge lab prototypes in the 30-40% range. In other words, at best, over half of the energy is still wasted.

Cue Lonnie Johnson. Nuclear engineer and inventor of the Super Soaker toy (who says boffins don’t have a sense of fun?), Johnson has now created a form of solar power technology that can work at an efficiency of close to 60%. This translates to megawatts of power generated when the system reached a blistering 660°C.

(I wonder how he will cool it down afterwards?)

Image: Paco CT

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.