As the price of solar components continues to fall, and the movement for green energy solutions builds steam in the face of the ever-worsening climate crisis, the solar industry continues to innovate at a breakneck speed. Some of these advances are already being used, and some are still dreams being developed in research labs around the globe, but these innovations ensure a brilliant future for solar.
Read on for some of the exciting advances being made in the solar energy arena:
Building Integrated Photovoltaics
Not only can building integrated photovoltaics serve as the outer layer of buildings, they can also generate plentiful electricity for on-site use or for export to the grid. We can already see customized panels being used on canopies and terraces. However, we are likely to see building integrated photovoltaics see increased use on building facades (the sides of buildings, replacing glass windows), rooftops, and semi-transparent glazing (for use in semi-transparent structures such as skylights and greenhouses).
Thin-Film Solar Panels
As opposed to traditional crystalline silicon solar cells, thin-film solar cells can be deployed by depositing one or more very thin layers on a substrate, such as plastic, glass or metal. Thin film cells are flexible, much more lightweight, and less susceptible to damage. Not only are they more budget-friendly, they also require less material, have no toxic components, generate less waste and are relatively easy to manufacture. Efficiencies range from 7-18% and are less affected by high temperatures (use is recommended in deserts for this reason). They are also proving to be more resistant against moisture, thus perfect for use in tropical (hot and humid) climates. While efficiencies and longevity are not yet up to crystalline silicon solar cell standards, the lower cost means the investment will be paid off much sooner. Some experts are noting that thin-film technology will surpass all silicon-based solar panels in the near future.
Floating Photovoltaic Solar (Floatovoltaics)
Floating PV solar takes advantage of the large available surfaces in lakes and reservoirs, producing large amounts of energy without gobbling up valuable land area. Due to the cooling effects of water underneath the panels, water was found to increase the production of energy by as much as 10%. Maintaining floating systems is reported to be less expensive due to the cleaning effects of the water as well. There are reported to be environmental benefits as well: the shade cast by the panels reduces excessive algae formation; the expanse of the system reduces evaporation; and by reducing the wind speeds and sunlight able to reach the water, they can buffer against global warming. However, as we all know, man-made changes to any natural environment can have negative impacts on wildlife and the broader ecosystem; the harmful long-term effects of large-scale floating PV are still unknown.
It is now possible for solar cells to be sewn onto fabric. Solar fabric can be bent or glued to any type of surface (meaning it could be used on domes or circular structures), is exponentially lighter than framed panels, and contains no toxic components. This opens the possibility of making clothing that can absorb energy from the sun, enabling the wearer to generate enough electricity to power a cell phone or smart watch. Other possibilities include awnings over doorways, tents, tarps on trucks and window blinds. While the current efficiencies range from 13-18%, solar fabric has been shown to be more effective in low-light situations and more stable during temperature changes.
There are numerous other exciting innovations currently in the process of being developed, such as:
- A new kind of photoelectrochemical cell that mimics the process of photosynthesis
- A checkerboard or puzzle style design of solar panel that is reported to be 125% more efficient at absorbing light energy than traditional flat panels
- Space-based solar power systems that can collect solar energy, convert it into high-frequency radio waves, and beam it back to Earth to be “injected” into the electricity grid
- Perovskite is a thin layer of crystal material that acts as a semiconductor – it has been shown to increase power generation when applied as a cover to traditional solar cells
- A researcher at UC (University of California) Davis is reported to be working on a specially designed PV cell that can generate power at night (up to a quarter of what traditional panels generate during the day)
We are totally geeking out over these and the many other advances being made in the renewable energy arena – we hope you’ve enjoyed learning about just a few of them. Solar energy will be a critical piece of the puzzle as governments and corporations around the globe work to reduce our negative impact on the planet and move toward a zero-emissions future. These innovations will be key as every avenue of our clean energy future is explored!