Neat article, thanks. Worth paying extra attention to the final paragraph:
Lots of great sounding technologies never make it past the demonstration phase, or they get caught up in market forces beyond their developers' control. But in this case, market forces are clearly working in the devices' favor. As installation costs become an ever larger fraction of the total cost of a solar installation, it's clear that getting more out of each installation is likely to be critical.
Some of that is true, some less obviously so. The start-up Solyndra was working on broad-spectrum PV concentrators very like this; it became a political football when it crashed and burned. Market forces in that case: rapidly dropping per-watt cost of conventional PV -- mostly from China, which made no secret it was willing to dump for the sake of cornering the global RE market. It's hard to capitalize or sell more efficient technologies when the price of extant tech is dropping 10% a year. Just buy twice as many panels at $0.85 a watt, right?
So new tech, better tech, often requires niche buyers until it is ready for prime time. That's normally spelled military or aerospace programs, where performance is all, weight matters, and cost is no object. You are launching a $20 billion comm satellite with limited collecting surface and paying by the pound, GA solar panels are very intriguing.
As it happens, sailboats are similarly short on mounting space, so we could benefit from higher efficiencies. But truth be told, makers of conventional PV have done really well packing more transistors into a given square inch; my panels are ten years old and rated at half the output of new panels of equal dimensions. Without recourse to exotic tech, manufacturers have already doubled the efficiency
(measured as power/area) of PV in a decade, while cutting the cost per watt by 60%
. I expect they still have some room for improvement on both fronts, meaning new tech like thin film GA will continue to struggle for funding and market share: as long as old tech keeps improving and the price keeps coming down, the fat middle of the bell curve will be content to buy a few extra panels, achieve the same results, and pocket the savings.