A global glut in polysilicon, the basic component of photovoltaic (PV) cells, and cuts in solar financial subsidies have smacked the solar market around pretty hard the past year. Another challenge the market faces is the relative inefficiency of the PV cells themselves, in that they only convert approximately 20% of the sunlight they gather into electricity.

One PV panel developer is now developing a prototype for a PV cell that it believes will dramatically increase the efficiency of solar panels. Jim Nelson, CEO of Solar3D Inc., Santa Barbara, Calif., recently said in a company press release that his company's three-dimensional cell design can deliver 25% conversion efficiency and features an integrated wide-angle light collection surface that grabs light from a wider range of angles. This design allows the company's PV cells to collect light more effectively early and late in the day, as well as in the winter months. “The result is that our 3D solar cell can deliver 200% more power output than conventional solar cells,” said Nelson in that release.

According to information on the company's web-site, “Solar3D, Inc., is developing a breakthrough three-dimensional solar cell technology to maximize the conversion of sunlight into electricity. Up to 30% of incident sunlight is currently reflected off the surface of conventional solar cells, and more is lost inside the solar cell materials. Inspired by light management techniques used in fiber-optic devices, our innovative solar cell technology utilizes a three-dimensional design to trap sunlight inside micro-photovoltaic structures where photons bounce around until they are converted into electrons.”