All of a sudden everyone seems to be getting funky with the solar cells. From glass for balconies to spinning cells shaped like ice cream cones, solar power is looking slicker and holding more promise than ever.

An LA-based company called V3Solar just made a splash with designs for sapphire blue "Spin Cells" that it says can produce 20 times more electricity than traditional flat, static photovoltaic panels. A cone containing triangular PV cells spins underneath a static shell lens to concentrate the solar power, Ubergizmo's Latif Salman explained.

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This YouTube video shows a prototype in action. "Like a spinning discoball, we make the photons dance," the video says. While the cost per watt wasn't readily available, the company's CEO has said that he thinks removing the inverter and increasing efficiency will lower the overall cost of ownership.


Sharp recently came out with interesting solar cells as well. In a Japanese press release, the company said it created semi-transparent black glass photovoltaic panels that could be used as a green building material. A series of 4.5 feet by 3.2 feet thin panels could add a heat barrier and privacy to balconies in high rise buildings. The panels went on sale in Japan this week.

Although Sharp's panels have a maximum output of 95 watts with a conversion rate that seems lackluster, they are commercially available and see-through, CNET's Christopher McManus pointed out. We've got to start somewhere.

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Meanwhile, Dow's Powerhouse Solar Shingles, which protect houses from the elements and offset electric costs, were just named one of the top 10 tech breakthroughs of the year by Popular Mechanics.

Dow's solar cells are made from copper indium gallium diselenide and covered in glass. They can be nailed right into a roof, just like normal shingles, Rachel Z. Arndt of Popular Mechanics noted, except they happen to be photovoltaic. According to Dow, the shingles are available from authorized dealers in central Texas, Northern California and Colorado.

All this new solar power tech makes me think that the hardware store is going to be an even more exciting place to visit in the future.