A Little Fun With Solar Power

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Solar stocks are under pressure, margins are under pressure, and companies are even going bankrupt. But amid the doom and gloom, there are some really cool things going on in solar, and when I put my engineering hat back on, I found technology that got me really excited. Here are some of the amazing things happening in solar.

7th-grader teaches us a lesson
A 13-year-old has caused a lot of buzz in the solar sector by inventing a specific method of distributing solar cells to increase energy generation. The array, built on the Fibonacci sequence, was designed by connecting solar cells in the same way leaves are connected to branches of a tree.

The "tree design" apparently made 20% more electricity and collected 2.5 more hours of sunlight than a flat solar panel. And manufacturers have expressed interest in the technology.

The flat panel has been the common form factor in solar for years, but maybe it's time to rethink that. SunPower (NAS: SPWRA) is exploring some crazy-looking concentrators that focus the sun's rays on solar cells. Companies are also hard at work building trackers for utility-scale solar plants.

Maybe a solar tree would be a better option for developers, and it may even make environmentalists happy (wishful thinking).

Whether panel makers like Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) , Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) , or LDK Solar (NYS: LDK) find this kid's invention useful or not, this Fool thinks it's pretty cool that a 13-year-old has the industry's ear, for the moment.

A tip of my jester's hat to this rising star in solar.

Television and solar collide
Researcher Yang Yang at UCLA says he has discovered a way to help power LCD displays with solar power inside the display. The solar cell (if I can call it that) would have the ability to be charged from the sun, indoor lighting, and even the phone's own backlight.

Think of it as a hybrid LCD panel.

The photovoltaic polarizers are thin solar films but differ greatly from the thin-film panels that manufacturers like First Solar (NAS: FSLR) are making. Instead, this would be a thin layer in the display of, for example, an Apple iPhone. The display would be more efficient because some of the light that is normally lost would be turned into electrical power. As an added bonus, if your iPhone is running low on power, you could just leave it out in the sunlight for a quick charge.

It's like going back to elementary school with my solar calculator.

Cruising on solar power
PlanetSolar
's catamaran TURANOR made port in Hong Kong recently on its trip around the world. The solar-powered ship has journeyed over the past 11 months from Monaco through the Panama Canal all the way to Hong Kong.

This is no tiny ship like the solar cars that compete in road races every year. TURANOR is 101 feet long and 49 feet wide; it can hold 50 people and travels at 15 mph under electric power. It's more like a giant yacht than a research vessel.

SunPower, a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar panels, is a partner on the vessel and up to three days of power can be stored using lithium-ion batteries.

It would be asking a lot to think a company like DryShips (NYS: DRYS) could install solar panels on its dry bulk ships, but a ship powered by solar power is pretty cool nonetheless.

Just scratching the surface
These are just a few of the interesting things happening across the solar sector. What's the coolest technology or application you've seen in solar? Leave a comment with your pick in the comments section below.

And keep up with solar technology changes by using My Watchlist, which will find all of our Foolish analysis on solar stocks and any other stocks you want to follow.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of SunPower, First Solar, LDK Solar, and has sold puts in SunPower. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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