Renewable energy has been a hot topic for the last few decades; and understandably so. With the cost, finite supply and environmental implications of traditional energy sources such as coal and oil, extensive research is being done to make existing alternative energy generation more efficient.

One such research project has recently yielded promising results. Scientists at Stanford University in Stanford, California have announced that they have successfully developed an all-carbon solar cell. Traditional solar panels are great, but they have three major drawbacks that limit their attractiveness to the average consumer: they’re expensive to manufacture, require more effort to install and can be unsightly. This development at Stanford would allow for solar cells that are cheaper to manufacture and easier to install as they can be painted onto a roof. The scientists, members of Stanford University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, have revealed that this new all-carbon solar cell can deliver better performance. The hope is that this material might eventually be useful for painting on other common surfaces, such as cars, to generate electricity.

Ironically, the new all-carbon solar cell is itself environmentally-friendly. Traditional solar panels are said to be made of scarce natural resources, such as indium, while carbon is sufficiently abundant. Unfortunately, these cells are not yet ready for widespread use as scientists are still working on increasing the conversion efficiency of the cell, but the results so far are promising.

The implications of this development are huge. By working to master this technology, scientists will have developed a solution to many of the problems associated with traditional solar panels. Objections to solar will be less, and the benefits will start to accrue. Even with traditional solar panels, some property owners make a profit as they produce more electricity than used by their property, allowing them to sell the excess electricity. With even more efficient technology, consumers would have not only an environmental but also an economic incentive.

Some people may argue that the pursuit of environmentally-efficient technologies for the sake of economic profit rather than environmental sustainability is not as noble; however, a balance between economic health and environmental health needs to be maintained as it’s hard to deny the importance of economic sustainability in today’s world.

by Fareed Khan

image: woman holding solar cells via Shutterstock