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The Green Life: Solar Innovations: Sidewalks, Windows, and Legos?

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October 31, 2013

Solar Innovations: Sidewalks, Windows, and Legos?

The sun could one day become our greatest energy sourceThis year, researchers have made huge progress in solar energy. In fact, one group of German scientists recently hit a new world record in solar panel efficiency. At 44.7 percent efficiency, their array almost triples the efficiency of commercially available panels. 

At the same time as this breakthrough, another research team was improving their panels — by channeling Lego block design. Check out three recent solar innovations that have us excited.

With a LEGO like array scientists have made solar panels more efficientThe Solar Lego Array
By combining the cheap metal, aluminum, and the pattern of a favorite children's toy at a mini scale, researchers have created a new solar panel that boosts the efficiency of a standard solar panel by 22 percent. Who knew that something like a Lego pattern could bend light in such a way as to boost solar efficiency? And by using aluminum in manufacturing, costs of current panels (which use gold and silver) could drop, making solar more available for the home.

George Washington University's brand new solar sidewalkSolar Panel Sidewalk
George Washington University's Virginia Science and Technology Campus recently completed the installation of the first walkable solar sidewalk. Semi-transparent panels (slip-resistant, of course) make up this small walkway, which is capable of generating a 400-watt peak capacity. While it is only a small step in length, it is definitely a big step towards something new in the world of solar energy.

Solar panels could someday cover all of our windowsSolar Paneled Windows
Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles made huge improvements on their thin, polymer solar sheets, which are almost completely transparent. These panels could be placed on anything from windows to rooftops, greatly improving the potential of solar energy. Although these solar panels are only a little more than 7 percent efficient, the thought that the sunlight shining through our windows can be put to work makes us happy. Imagine a skyscraper completely covered in these panels. In time, these panels could be the most beautifully radiant norm.

--Photos by iStockphoto/Velora, Andrey_Kuzmin, and Ryan Lane
--Photo of Solar Sidewalk/Jessica McConnell Burt - George Washington University

James Rogers is an editorial intern at Sierra. He graduated from Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment, where he studied a combination of environmental studies and journalism. While at Western, he was the editor in chief of The Planet magazine, and he has written for Conservation Northwest QuarterlyPublic Eye Northwestand The Western Front.

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