A startup called TenKsolar, based in Minneapolis, says it can increase the amount of solar power generated on rooftops by 25 to 50 percent, and also reduce the overall cost of solar power by changing the way solar cells are wired together and adding inexpensive reflectors to gather more light.
TenKsolar says its systems can produce power for as little as eight cents a kilowatt-hour in sunny locations. That's significantly more expensive than electricity from typical coal or natural-gas power plants, but it is less than the average price of electricity in the United States.
Solar cells have become more efficient in recent years, but much of the improvement has gone to waste because of the way solar cells are put together in solar panels, the way the panels are wired together, and the way the electricity is converted into AC power for use in homes or on the grid. Typically, the power output from a string of solar cells is limited by the lowest-performing cell. So if a shadow falls on just one cell in a panel, the power output of the whole system drops dramatically. And failure at any point in the string can shut down the whole system.
TenKsolar has opted for a more complex wiring system—inspired by a reliable type of computer memory known as RAID (for "redundant array of independent disks"), in which hard disks are connected in ways that maintain performance even if some fail. TenKsolar's design allows current to take many different paths through a solar-panel array, thus avoiding bottlenecks at low-performing cells and making it possible to extract far more of the electricity that the cells produce.