PV cells and concentrating solar thermal (CST), the two basic methods for harnessing the sun's power, have made great strides since their early days. But inflation in the cost of raw materials, such as silicon, combined with decades of cheap fossil fuels has kept overall solar energy consumption in the U.S. at 0.08 percent. And a series of new technologies that looked promising in the lab have proved impractical on the open market, leaving many observers to conclude that the age of solar energy will always remain just around the corner.
Meanwhile, though, almost under the radar, a few solar technologies have reached maturity. A type of silicon-free solar panel, half as expensive as silicon cells, has rapidly turned Arizona-based First Solar into the biggest solar-panel maker in the country. And along with Stirling Energy's SunCatcher, new CST designs promise to provide a steady flow of solar electricity -- even at night.
Full story from Popular Mechanics.