Researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a novel power plant using technology from sophisticated telescope mirrors and high-efficiency solar cells developed for space exploration. Their system promises to generate renewable energy twice as efficiently as standard solar panel technology with highly competitive costs and a very small environmental impact.

The researchers are working on focusing as much as possible of the sun's energy onto a precise point. Instead of the usual mirrors shaped like a cylinder, the team has developed dish-shaped mirrors that focus light onto a small glass ball that is about 12 centimetres in diameter.

The glass ball contains a specially coated lens that redirects the light to an array of 36 small, high-efficiency solar cells. These cells, which were originally developed for space applications, can absorb light over a broader spectrum than standard cells.

Professor Roger Angel, who is coordinating the research, said that "By using mirrors to focus on small but super-efficient photovoltaic cells, we have the potential to make twice as much electricity as even the best photovoltaic panels."

The system could be adapted for producing solar thermal energy rather than for photovoltaic electricity.