At the moment, there are two reliable ways to make electricity from sunlight. You can use a panel of solar cells to create the current directly, by liberating electrons from a semiconducting material such as silicon. Or you can concentrate the sun’s rays using mirrors, boil water with them, and employ the steam to drive a generator.
Both work. But both are expensive. Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhifeng Ren of Boston College therefore propose, in a paper in Nature Materials, an alternative. They suggest that a phenomenon called the thermoelectric effect might be used instead—and they have built a prototype to show that the idea is practical.
Interesting apparatus - especially when combined with solar water heating techniques. I’m still kind of disappointed with the ~4% efficiency though… that’s fairly low. Also, no mention of price point for manufacturing…