In recent years, solar power technology has undergone almost constant innovation and to the present day shows no indication of slowing down. Common concerns about solar and more broadly renewable energies in general have included their efficiency, design and heavy reliance on external conditions.
Yet new breakthroughs promise to help improve all of these issues, transforming the industry and making solar power technology more attractive than ever before.
There are two major categories of solar power named photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). PV transforms light into electricity through the use of semiconducting materials, while CSP concentrates the suns thermal energy to create enough heat to power a turbine, which in turn generates electricity. It is these two categories of solar technology which promise to revolutionize the industry.
Transmission issues and reliance on external conditions like the weather mean that renewables such as wind and solar are not always reliable. For example, if the sun is not shining when power is required, then it can’t be relied upon. Yet battery storage systems are promising to change that.
Battery storage allows the energy generated to be stored. This provides both homeowners and industry the ability to use the power for their own needs, or to circulate it back into the grid for profit.
Tesla is the current market leaders, with the likes of their Powerwall product, and although it is a fairly expensive product, Bloomberg Energy predicts their cost will plummet over the next decade in response to growing demand.
Still, one of the main drawbacks of battery storage systems is their cost, which renders them unattainable to the average consumer. Yet without the ability to access a stream of energy on demand, their appeal will be limited. Therefore, another more economical alternative to the battery storage option is referred to as Solar Thermal Fuels (STFs).
As their name suggests this is a solution with the ability to store solar energy, allowing users to tap into the energy store on demand. Developed by MIT researchers, the fuel has recently been integrated into windows and other surfaces that are exposed to the sun. As HeatTalk states “In the near future, solar power could truly revolutionize the heating and cooling industry, further helping to reduce the USs heavy reliance on fossil fuels”.
Traditional solar panels are often considered to have limited versatility when it comes to building design and some property owners even consider them aesthetically displeasing. However, new solar technology promises to revolutionize the way solar appears and is used in building design and architecture.
One such example is solar shingles that appear almost identical to those used on traditional roof surfaces. Again, Tesla is leading the way in shingle solar design and currently offers a good selection of glass roof tiles with integrated solar technology.
Another company named Sistine Solar is also making great strides in solar design with their “Solar Skin” panels. These are very similar to traditional solar panels, yet aim to match the color and texture of roofs without disturbing performance.
As the name suggests, these are solar panels that don’t require a frame and instead utilize a mount that matches the panel itself. Many people find this design option much more aesthetically pleasing than traditional framed panels.
Glass panels utilize the same type of technology found in traditional solar panels – primarily silicon solar cells. The major difference is that they are placed between two clear panes of glass, which many find more attractive. The advantage isn’t just improved aesthetic though, as they also tend to be much more durable and therefore have increased longevity.
The efficiency of solar panels relates to their ability to convert sunlight into electricity, therefore the more efficient the panel, the more electricity it will generate. As a result, this is often considered the most important metric by consumers and industry.
The efficiency of solar panels has steadily increased over the years and the race continues to increase their overall efficiency. Currently, the most efficient panel on the market is offered by SunPower at 22.2%, followed closely by LG at 21.1% and then Solartech Universal at around 20%.
The good news is that in the summer of 2018, MIT researchers announced their proposed technology, which promises to double the overall efficiency of solar panels, further revolutionizing the industry. This is welcome news to those who wish to rebut critics of solar, since a common complaint of theirs was its limited efficiency.
Another new technology growing in popularity are bifacial or double sided solar panels. These are equipped with solar cells on both sides and so are able to capture sunlight and generate electricity on both sides of the panel.
Traditional panels only have solar cells on one side and so light that is reflected from another surface that hits the back is not used. Therefore, this innovative design makes maximum use of the available sunlight and in turn increases electricity generation.
Typically, this design is not used on rooftop panels, but instead on ground based solar installments, usually on commercial scale solar farms. The major reason for this is that some elevation is required to allow maximum reflection on the rear panel.
Although many homeowners and businesses often see the merits of solar, the orientation of their roofs means that for many solar panel installation just isn’t practical. However, ground based solar panels with tracking technology are now promising to open up solar to even more people.
The tracking technology installed into the ground based panels ensures that they panels follow the sun throughout the day. This allows the panels to be exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight and therefore generate the maximum amount of electricity possible.