Since high-efficiency photovoltaic cells tend to be expensive, one way to reduce the cost of solar panels is to concentrate sunlight from a large area onto a very small cell. A new development from a company in Toronto called Morgan Solar greatly simplifies the concentrating components to drive down the cost of concentrated solar power (their goal is to move below $1 per watt by 2011). Morgan Solar's design can focus the power of 1000 suns onto a high-efficiency solar cell about the size of a baby's thumbnail. From the Technology Review:
Nicolas Morgan holds up a square piece of clear, molded acrylic about a centimeter thick and shines a penlight directly at its flat surface. A green beam enters the acrylic and bends toward the center of the square. Morgan repeats the process at different points on the surface, and each time, the beam darts toward the center.
The acrylic component--called a Light-Guide Solar Optic (LSO)--is a new type of solar concentrator that could significantly lower the cost of generating electricity from the sun. Unlike existing designs, there's no need for mirrors, complex optics, or chemicals to trap and manipulate the light. "It's pure geometric optics," says Morgan, director of business development at Toronto-based Morgan Solar.