The world has recently been waking up to the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and towards a low-carbon economy. To achieve this, we need a way of producing electricity that is efficient, widely applicable and cheap. At the same time, there has recently been an appreciation of the tremendous scope for making entirely new types of devices, and even seeing new physics, by structuring matter at the nanoscale. Furthermore, the occurrence of self-assembly in nature suggests that a range of types of nanoscale structures could be made simply and cheaply. The application of nanostructures to photovoltaics combines a field of almost limitless possibilities with a problem of vital urgency. In this paper, some of the newer ideas emerging from this trend are described, along with how they challenge our ideas on what a solar cell looks like. We are at the beginning of a time of radically rethinking the design of the solar cell, which may lead to the exploitation of completely new physical ideas in achieving a sustainable energy future.
One contribution of 23 to a Triennial Issue ‘Mathematics and physics’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society