One of the vexing problems facing the solar power industry is the tendency of the sun to shine from different angles at different times of the day. A typical solar panel does not capture sunlight and convert it to electricity efficiently unless the sun is shining on it dead on. According to MIT Technology Review, a small, California startup has developed an adaptive material that greatly reduces the cost of tracking the sun.

In large scale solar plants, mirrors or lenses are used to precisely track the sun and thus concentrate sunlight precisely on solar panels. Unfortunately this greatly increases the costs of large solar plants by requiring the use of a large amount of concrete and steel.

The way the new technology works is divided into two parts. First an array of thin, inexpensive lenses captures the sunlight and concentrates it on solar cells. The second part is a sheet of glass that concentrates the light at its edges, boosting the concentration to up to 500 times. The glass, which is made of adaptive materials, is the key to the technology

The glass is covered front and back with reflective material. However the side facing the lens adapt when the sunlight focused by the lens hits a portion of the glass. As it heats up, the portion when the sunlight is concentrated loses it reflective qualities, allowing the light in. The light bounces around the inside of the glass until it reaches the edge where solar cells capture it and convert it into electricity.

The great trick is that the glass does not move. The area where the light is captured moves, eliminating the need to make it track the sun. The technology has so much potential that the company developing it has received a grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy. With the money the company hopes to scale up its system to 30 centimeters across, which would be almost enough to take it commercial.

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