Solar power is set to transform the way businesses and households get at least part of their energy requirements over the next few years. If the target set by the US Department of Energy can be reached for a completely installed solar power system costing less than $1 per watt, the cost of solar power to the consumer in the US would be only 6 cents per kWh making it a cheaper alternative than electricity generated by the new natural gas power plants.
While most of us think of solar panels arrayed on rooftops, incorporated into shingles or as great solar ‘farms’ of panels at ground level, Scientists and Researchers are working on some incredible new technology that could revolutionize the way we think about Solar power.
Solar Innovations for Buildings
- Solar Fabric has the efficiency of conventional Solar panels but has the lightness and ease of use of fabric. The applications for this product in covering the vertical faces of buildings are obvious and could allow a building such as London’s US Embassy, to generate in excess of 100 mega watts of electricity!
- Companies are working to develop transparent, glass Solar panels; Glass can be coated with a transparent film that is easy and inexpensive to apply to enable replacement of ordinary windows with those that generate electricity.
- Solar film, printed in rolls and incorporated into roofing shingles is an inexpensive way of adding solar power production to a new building without the costs of adding solar panels to the surface of a roofing structure.
Innovations in Solar Panel Technology
- Double Sided Solar Panels. Currently, solar panels generate electricity from one side only. A Chinese manufacturer, Sunergy is working on a double-sided solar panel, able to absorb light from both sides and expected to generate up to 20% more electricity by comparison with single sided panels.
- Hairy Solar! Solar panels using carbon Nanotube fabric, look ‘hairy’ – but are actually coated with carbon nanowires that can absorb more of the sun’s energy than conventional silicon cells and make the panels more efficient. http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/new-solar-cell-is-98-plastic-and-catches-a-record-breaking-96-of-incident-light.html
- Capturing Energy from Infrared. Capturing power from light outside the visible spectrum has been achieved by adding Vanadium and Titanium to the semiconductors of solar panels. This has tremendous implications for harvesting even more electricity from solar panels by harnessing power from the infrared spectrum too.
Commercial Solar Innovations
- Energy For Free. With solar cells becoming more efficient, even smaller and less expensive, more and more of the electronic devices we use will become solar powered. The ‘Solar Focus’ cover for Amazon’s Kindle can collect enough power to run the device for three days from just one hour of sunlight. This ‘energy-for-free’ option that can be utilized anywhere is set to become the norm for laptops, mobile phones and more in the future!
- Artificial Photosynthesis. Another exciting innovation is the development of a new way of storing energy by utilizing a process very similar to the photosynthesis used by green plants. Called an ‘Artificial Leaf’ but actually not looking like a leaf at all, it uses solar energy to create hydrogen and oxygen by splitting water. The gases can be stored in fuel cells allowing households to have an on-demand source of power even where no access to the electricity grid is possible. http://www.rsc.org/ScienceAndTechnology/Policy/Documents/solar-fuels.asp
The innovations mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg for what is to come in clean, green Solar power Technology. Renewable energy for both Businesses and Homeowners is going to be something we all make use of in the future.
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