On a weekly basis I am bombarded by companies and researchers claiming to have squeezed even more energy efficiency out of a photovoltaic cell.
All too often the percentage gain is typically in the order of a few percent if you are lucky. And some of the methods and materials used to achieve the gains range from the obscure to the metaphysical.
In many cases the solutions tend not to be economically viable even if they are technically marvelous.
But I guess it is good to know that progress is grinding its way to a more energy efficient future but it is certainly proving a grind.
So it is welcome news to hear that National Semiconductor is planning to join the PV bun fight. Not because National is any more likely than any other group to extract more energy out of solar cell design but because the company seems to appreciate that there is more than one way to crack a problem.
Instead of joining all the sun worshippers, National's boffins seem to have recognized that there is another way of unleashing the power of solar cells by seeking out the shadows. This spring the company will unveil a new energy management solution (see our article - National Semiconductor aims to help solar installers meet shade challenges.
Perhaps the cleverest part of the solution is that it is based on the simple concept of talking to the engineers who have to implement PV technology in the real world.
If you are willing to listen any solar cell installer will tell you that small amounts of shade (for example, shading of less than 10 percent of the surface area of a PV system) can lead to power losses of more than 50 percent.
So the smart cookies at National have realized that instead of spending millions of dollars on research and development to improve conversion efficiencies by a fraction of one percent they could invest in trying to solve the problem of power mismatches from different panels within a single solar array, whether they are caused by shade or other reasons. By addressing yield improvements in system performance the pay-off could equate to gains of more than 30 percent.
National's approach to power optimization promises to make life easier for installers by giving them more flexibility and that should pay dividends for end users too.
So perhaps there is something to be said for keeping your researchers in the dark after all.