The most expensive, carefully designed, and complicated solar panels in the world operate at about 40% efficiency. That means that, for every bit of sunlight that hits the panel, only 40% of it is turned into electricity.
Scientists think that this is just about as good as silicon panels can do and are now looking at ways to make it cheaper, instead of making them more efficient. But suddenly, from nowhere, comes Steven Novack of the Idaho National Laboratories with an inexpensive, foldable solar panel that may turn out to be up to 80% efficient.
The trick is nanotechnology. The surface of the material is printed with miniscule nano-antennae that capture infra-red radiation, the kind that the sun puts out in abundance, and is even available at night. Television antennas absorbe large wavelength energy, so in order to absorb ultra-small wavelength energy (photons) they had to create ultra-small antennas.
80% Efficient Solar Panel?! Works at Night?! - [Link]