This research from the Georgia Institute of Technology changes things:
Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have created the world’s first 3-D photovoltaic solar system that actually works underground.
Using optical fibers common to the telecommunications industry, researchers seeded them with zinc oxide nanostructures–much like the white stuff found on a lifeguard nose. Those nanostructures were then coated with a dye-sensitized material that converts light into electricity. The electricity is then captured using a liquid electrolyte surrounding the nanostructures.
So only the very tip of the cable needs to be exposed to actual sunlight.
This technology could really displace many panel-based solar systems and is a formidable accomplishment for the southeastern engineering school, away from nanotechnology and sustainability academic enclaves like MIT or the west coast:
This 3-D system can be easily concealed, leaving rooftops panel-free. It gives architects and designers new options for incorporating PVs into buildings. For each cable is only 3-times the width of a human hair.
“This will really provide some new options for photovoltaic systems,” Dr Zhong Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology said. “We could eliminate the aesthetic issues of PV arrays on building.”