The Finest Solar Technology Doesn't Come from a Lab
by Brian Thomas, M.S. *
Advances in solar cell technology have produced a new European record of 39.7 percent efficiency. The result was attributed to improved “contact structures” of solar cells, according to Frank Dimroth at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg.1
Although other labs have solar cell prototypes that have reached and exceeded 40 percent efficiency,2 some researchers are concerned that unless an improvement in energy storage is achieved, trying to make progress in harvesting solar energy might be a waste of time. Solar cells do not operate in the dark, so if the energy they capture in daylight cannot be stored, it cannot be used at night or on cloudy days.
While this presents a problem for scientists, God has already invented efficient solar energy capture and storage mechanisms—in plants. These God-devised “solar cells” convert solar energy into chemical energy, rather than electric. They draw on specific wavelengths of light and typically use eight photons to store one molecule of carbon dioxide. This adds up to 1665 kilo-Joules (a standard unit of energy) of light that are required to store 477 kJ of chemical energy in the plant, resulting in a maximum efficiency of 28.6 percent.
However, like solar cell panels, unless plant cells store their energy in a stable yet retrievable form, their systems would all shut down within minutes in the dark. Collections of sugar molecules, typically in the form of starch, serve as plant “batteries” by storing the chemical energy. This chemical energy can then be accessed during dark night hours, or even longer if necessary.
Even with at most 28.6 percent efficiency, the energy system of plants is able to provide enough power to fuel the light-to-energy collection and storage machines themselves, as well as support all the other plant equipment and processes—including DNA, protein, and vitamins, and both intra- and extracellular nutrient transportation. These systems can also energize the formation of fruits and vegetables for the benefit of other creatures.3 Moreover, these energy collection and storage systems are seamlessly and solidly “wired” into every other plant growth and maintenance system.
Thus, even though some man-made solar cells are more efficient than plants at converting light into energy, they have limited practical applications without appropriately balanced storage, manufacturing, set-up, maintenance, and interfacing capacities. God-made solar systems are self-maintaining, self-cleaning, self-copying, self-cooling, environmentally helpful, and able to store excess energy in a format that is not only self-accessible, but also forms the staple energy source for most heterotrophic creatures on the planet. Such amazing, comprehensive design is yet further evidence of God’s purposeful provision for His creation.4
- New European Record Efficiency for Solar Cells Achieved: 39.7%. CompoundSemi Online. Posted on CompoundSemi.com September 24, 2008, accessed September 26, 2008.
- UD-led team sets solar cell record, joins DuPont on 100 million dollar project. University of Delaware press release, July 23, 2007.
- Demick, D. 2000. The Unselfish Green Gene. Acts & Facts. 29 (7).
- Genesis 1:29-30.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Article posted on October 7, 2008