One significant problem with existing solar technology is that it's not terribly efficient at harvesting solar energy and turning it into electricity.
Solar technology is improving all the time, but one 12-year-old boy may have the key to making solar panels that can harness 500 times the light of a traditional solar cell. William Yuan is a seventh grader in Oregon whose project, titled "A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light," may change the energy industry and make solar energy far easier to harness and distribute.
At the heart of Yuan's project is a special solar cell that can harness both visible and ultraviolet light. Most solar cells in use today are either photovoltaic, meaning they harness only visible light, or thermal. While visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light are all heavily scattered or absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, ultraviolet light comes in at shorter wavelengths and with higher energy than both visible and infrared light. Ultraviolet light can provide more energy to a collector than other, longer-wavelength members of the electromagnetic spectrum. Yuan's solar cells are not just innovative for their collection of UV light, but also because they're engineered to stand freely in three dimensions (which allows them to collect more light) and make use of carbon nanotubes, which allow the cell to distribute the energy it collects without dissipating as much as traditional cells do.
Yuan is looking for a manufacturer to invest in building his new solar cell, and likely won't have a problem finding a partner. Yuan's solar cells have earned him a $25,000 scholarship to fund his education and research, a fellowship at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and a host of other awards in science and engineering. Yuan isn't the only young inventor making a difference, more and more young innovators are changing the face of clean technology.