The past few years have been rich for solar innovations, with new advances in solar power technology making the media just about every week.
As demand for renewables increases, innovation will keep moving forward.
There are two types of solar power technology; solar PV that produces electricity out of sunlight and solar thermal. Solar Thermal uses heat generated from the sun to produce electricity or hot water.
Both technologies have made major strides in innovation recently. But here we focus on a few innovations in the solar power space that will continue making the headlines in the future.
1. Solar Skin Design
For many people, solar panels aren’t all that aesthetically pleasing.
Enter a Boston-based design company called Sistine Solar that have come up with a unique way to customise the look and feel of solar panels.
Solar panels now can blend into your existing roof style and colour. Developed by MIT engineers, SolarSkin is a thin-film coating with ultra-durable graphics that is integrated onto high-efficiency solar panels.
The technology uses light filtration to simultaneously display an image and transmit sunlight to the underlying solar cells with minimal loss in efficiency.
The technology employs advanced algorithms that combine elements from colour theory, cognitive sciences, and human visual perception to create a visually pleasing solar panel.
The process is simple: just select a style and colour and you’re good to go. Sistine Solar’s design team creates customised print proofs within 24 to 48 hours. The customised printed skins have excellent colour retention, adhesive properties and near zero power loss.
2. Solar Powered Roads
Did I hear you say solar powered roads? What’s next?
Solar panels need space and plenty of it, the more space available, the more power produced.
If we can find space that already serves a purpose and also use it for solar power, that’s even better. After all, space is at a premium nowadays and what better space to use than roads, right?
Solar Roadways have created a modular solar panel that can be driven and walked on.
The solar panels consist of LED lights that create lines and signage without paint. They also contain heating elements to prevent ice and snow accumulation.
The solar panels contain microprocessors, making them intelligent and providing the ability to communicate with other solar panels, vehicles and a central control station.
Now, who would believe these panels are actually made of glass? Not ordinary glass but the tempered glass that can support the weight of a semi-truck.
3. Wearable Solar
Want to make a fashion statement? What about wearable solar panels?
The concept isn’t new as solar-powered watches have been around for a while.
Yet researchers in Japan have now developed integrated solar textiles. These solar panels can be integrated into clothing on the shoulders or backs of T-shirts or even on hats.
This clean power source can be used to power anything from IoT sensors to your smartphone or power bank.
The integrated textile solar panel is not limited to only commercial clothing, but also has military applications by providing power to soldiers in the field, instead of them carrying heavy battery packs. The flexible solar panel consists of filaments in the form of thin, light and flexible copper ribbons.
One side of these ribbons contains a solar cell while the other has energy-storing layers.
Other uses for the technology include heated car seats and electric cars, that can generate and store solar energy whenever exposed to sunlight.
4. Advances of Solar Efficiency
Perovskite solar panels are an emerging thin-film PV class technology also known as third generation photovoltaics.
The technology has the potential to overcome current efficiency and performance limits.
A perovskite solar cell is a type of solar cell that includes a perovskite-structured compound.
Most commonly, a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material is the light-harvesting active layer. Perovskite materials such as methylammonium lead halides are cheap to produce and relatively simple to manufacture.
Efficiency levels above 20% have already been achieved in the lab, with the current efficiency record of 27.3% having been achieved by Oxford Photovoltaics.
Perovskite solar cells are touted as the PV technology of the future.
5. Solar Thermal Fuel
Energy storage is touted as the holy grail of renewables but what about turning sunlight into fuel?
Have we been looking at this the wrong way around? Instead of using sunlight to produce electricity why not use it to produce fuel?
This technology is being developed in Southern Australia as an alternative to battery storage.
Researchers from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide along with a handful of other international institutions have converted solar energy directly into chemical energy in the form of methane and methanol.
The process uses dynamic nano-clusters, which consists of a specific number of metallic-gold atoms that interact with the molecules in UV light.
The technology has the potential for industrial, commercial and domestic applications.
6. Solar Water Purifiers
There’s an estimated 663 million people worldwide without access to clean drinking water.
What’s even worse is that at least 1000 children die each day from drinking non-potable water.
Non-potable water carries infectious diseases such as Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Hepatitis A, E.coli, etc.
The solution? A tiny solar-powered contraption, half the size of a postage stamp that purifies water.
This device cleans and filters the water via the sun’s rays.
There are already numerous technologies out there that can purify water. But most of these technologies are power hungry and expensive.
The solar-powered tablet is the most efficient and economical out of all the water purification technologies.
What’s even better is that the solar-powered water purification tablet takes only a few minutes to purify the water.
The small glass tablet has a coating of copper with nanoflakes of the lubricant molybdenum disulphide covering its exterior. This chemical undergoes a reaction at the right moment to disinfect the water. All the bacteria are killed quickly and efficiently, with 99.9% of all bacteria in a 25 ml sample of water killed in a time of merely 20 minutes.
The technology can be scaled up indefinitely, with a cost of a few dollars making it an extremely cost-efficient alternative to conventional water purification technologies.
7. Solar in a Can Anyone?
Spray-on solar is touted as the next big thing.
Solar power has already been a major disruptor for the monolithic centralised utility industry.
Yet now a new solar power product will possibly disrupt the solar panel business too.
A British company have done just that by developing a spray-on solar solution. They plan to have the spray-on solar product commercially available by the end of 2018.
The unique paint uses Perovskite technology that is mixed in liquid solutions.
Unlike silicon, Perovskite is soluble in the liquid. It promises to be more affordable than conventional silicon technology. It can be sprayed on everything from windows to walls and cars to produce clean power.
It wasn’t that long ago that solar panels became mainstream and disrupted the more traditional energy market.
Fast forward a few years and innovations to the solar power space seem to be making the media headlines on an almost daily basis.
Some of the new innovations include designer solar panel coatings for your roof and solar integrated wearable designer clothing.
Other technologies being developed include the use of new compounds that promise to be more efficient and cost-effective than conventional silicon-based solar panels.
Sunlight can also help to produce clean water. Spray-on solar is a major breakthrough for the renewables industry too.
The future looks like solar power will form an integral part of our lives, impacting just about everything we do and everything we use.
Many of these innovations are a few years from commercialisation, but a few are already commercially available or expected to hit the shops in the very near future.
If you want to see how much solar or battery storage could save you over the next 5 years, then take our solar saving calculator quiz below!
Or talk to an Instyle Solar expert about the best solutions for home energy storage or PV-panels.
Otherwise, head back to the solar blog to find even more great educational content.
Photo credit: Inc.com, Sistine Solar, I4U News