The Alternative Energy Blog notes an article in the Daily Yomiuri On-Line about a new solar-powered steam turbine system invented by one Professor Takeo Saito of Tohoku University. The Professor claims that he has been able to generate twice as much energy than he could get out conventional solar cells, with a power output of 1,300 watts. He intends on building a miniaturized version for washing machines.
The solar steam turbine may not be worldchanging per se (the fact that it uses superheated chlorofluorocarbons gives one pause, at the very least), but Saito's stated reasons for undertaking its development are. During Japan's economic bubble of a few years back, Saito, a specialist in energy and environmental sciences, determined that the then-current rate of consumption was simply unsustainable, and began work on alternative energy systems. As the idea that current rates of consumption are simply unsustainable becomes more widespread, expect to see more out-of-the-blue innovations as more people grapple with the issue (remember: with enough minds, all problems are shallow). Many of the resulting ideas and models will be somewhat unworkable, but some will be revolutionary. Count on it.
You know, for twice the efficiency of regular solar cells, I think I'd be willing to deal with some nasty chemicals in a closed loop system.