The Bright Future of Solar Antennae

An Idaho lab’s invention could make solar power cheap, efficient, and widely accessible.

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For the past 30 years, the promise of solar power has been both a shining beacon and a source of disappointment. The roadblock has always been the technology needed to harness the sun: It’s frighteningly expensive, and complicated to maintain. Plus, after installing a system, you instantly become the dweeb down the block with the big brown panels on the roof.

Enter Steven Novack of Idaho National Laboratory. Novack and his colleagues have invented a radically different type of solar technology—the nano-antenna, which is about 1/25th the diameter of a human hair and can be crammed by the millions onto a square the width of a mailing envelope. Nano-antennae work sort of like radio antennae to tune in solar radiation, and they absorb about 80 percent of the sun’s available energy, and can collect infrared radiation even when it’s cloudy. By comparison, standard panels make use of only about 20 percent of the sun’s energy. The Idaho lab aims to produce its antennae in sheets for a few dollars a yard. Novack estimates they’ll hit the market by 2015.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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