The on-going Fukushima crisis has sparked renewed interest in natural energy sources. A growing number of companies and individuals in Japan are installing solar panels to generate their own electricity. The problem is solar generation is still inefficient and relatively expensive.
But researchers are working all out to come up with cutting edge answers.
In Aichi prefecture a housing company is tackling the problem of solar panels over heating, the hotter the panels the less energy the produce. In summer when there surfaces can hit 60c they are 20% less efficient. One way to keep the temperature down is by sprinkling them with water.
However water evaporates quickly and the cost of using so much water actually drives up operating costs. So the company tried using ceramics underneath the solar panels. Ceramics absorb water, and that water evaporates slowly.
That means less water is needed to cool down the panels. Under the glass surface of the panels is a layer of silicon that generates the electricity the ceramic underlay retains water so the temperature can be kept down without having to add water continually.
The company has found that by making the ceramics into flat panels, they can reduce the temperatures by 7c. Its next target is to bring that down by over 10c.
"If this approach could be developed for use on people's houses much more power could be generated than at present."
Another company is focusing on maximizing the amount of sun light being collected.
A steel company in Aichi has developed panels that move constantly so the face the sun to take in as much sunlight as possible. The key point is the acrylic lenses, used on the panel's surfaces.
This lens collects 820x more sunlight than a standard panel. The light is focus so it hits a solar cell which converts it into electricity although they are much more expensive, each cell gathers so much light that few are needed. This helps keep costs down.
This solar technology is among the most efficient in the world. The cells generate twice as much energy as conventional solar panels.
"Our aim is to focus on developing large scale components for use in solar power plants"
Other researches are looking into the properties of different materials. Professor Masafumi Yamaguchi, of the Toyota Technological Institute, is the head of a team working on a collaborative project with EU researchers.
Yamaguchi is come up with a way of using all the components of sunlight. Up to now solar power has only come form visible light. Not ultraviolet or infrared light.
Yamaguchi's team has broken new ground by successfully generating energy from all three sections of the spectrum, maximizing its potential. They developed this triple layered solar cell. In tests these cells generated over twice as conventional cells.
Combining this method with the new lenses will increase generation capacity even more.
"If solar power generators can be made long lasting efficient and cheap, they will out perform all other methods of generating electivity."
Professor Yamaguchi says that he hopes by 2030 as much as 100 million kilowatts will be generated by solar power equivalent to the out put of 20 nuclear power plants.