Quantum Solutions to the Energy Crisis
Harvesting Sunlight using Better Solar Cells:
Sunlight provides an abundant source of clean power. Plants figured this out a long time ago, and use photosynthesis to convert the sun's energy into something they can use.
If we could capture all the sun's energy falling on the earth's surface for just 20 days, that would exceed all the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas!
How can we capture solar energy? By designing an 'artificial leaf' - a device called the Solar Cell, that converts the sun's energy into electricity. Right now we are only able to convert about 10-15% of the solar energy falling on these cells into electricity. Scientists are trying many ideas to improve this number. Some of us would like to use our understanding of the Quantum Laws that govern the electron's motion, to design better solar cells.
In Solar Cells, light energy creates a positive and negative electrical charge, that then race downhill and create an electrical current.
Although the current produced by each cell is tiny, when one adds together the effect of many of them, a substantial current can be generated. The biggest 'forest' of such solar cells is currently in Spain, where solar cells cover an area the size of UC Berkeley's campus, and provide enough electricity to power 20,000 homes!
Web Resources on Solar Energy and Solar Cells: