Solar energy as a strategic element for the future of energy is in constant state of development and innovation. Practically every week, news of technological advances is published. In the first half of 2018, milestones have been reached in the efficiency of solar panels , improvement of solar storage and new uses of photovoltaic solar technology have been developed.
Next, we talk about the latest developments in photovoltaics.
Solar Technology: 2018 novelties
There are two types of solar technology: photovoltaic (fv) and solar concentration (CSP).
- Photovoltaic energy captures sunlight to generate electrical energy.
- Concentrating solar energy reflects sunlight at a point (tower) generating steam that drives a turbine. This technology generates electrical energy even when there is no solar irradiation thanks to the stored heat.
With these two technologies opens a huge range of opportunities. These are the emerging technologies:
New more aesthetic Solar Panels
A major barrier to solar energy companies in the residential sector is the fact that a high percentage of owners consider that solar panels are not aesthetic for their homes.
Fortunately, several companies have gone to work in search of solutions. Some of the products available in the market today are:
- Solar panels without frame . Some of the leading panel manufacturers worldwide such as Canadian Solar, Trina and SolarWorld are producing these revolutionary solar panels. The problem with which they have found is that there are no assembly equipment adapted to this type of aesthetic panels. Therefore, they are manufacturing assembly elements specifically for them.
- Transparent solar panels . Neither have a frame and the protective casing is made of glass. The manufacturing process is the same as that of conventional solar panels but the usually opaque coating is completely transparent. They are more durable and cause less visual impact than silicon solar panels. DSM Advanced Surfaces and Topray Solar are two of the manufacturers that offer this solution.
- Solar tiles Tesla. Unique product in its class that deserves its own section. The company of Elon Musk has developed solar tiles that are placed on the roof of the house and its competitive advantage is that by maintaining solar production can not see any difference compared to common tiles. They have different finishes: Tuscan glass, slate glass, textured glass and smooth gray tile.
- Thin layer solar panel design. The Boston company, Sixtina Solar, allows you to customize the panels. They have created what they call “solar skin” that allows the photovoltaic solar panel to match the appearance of the roof without interfering with the efficiency and production of the panel.
- Double-sided solar panels or bi-facial panels. As its name indicates, the sun’s rays can be used on both sides. The lower face captures sunlight reflected off the roof. To maximize the reflection of the light, the areas of the cover below the white panel are painted. The company SolarWorld offers the panel Sunmodule XL Solar Power International that consists of 72 cells of high bifacial power and that increases in a 25% the production in front of the conventional panels.
The freeways are part of the future of mobility.
China has a 1 km section of road under test. The aim of this solar road is to generate electricity and to pour it into the electricity grid and it is planned to make it possible in the near future to recharge electric vehicles on the move.
On the other hand, the sidewalks along a stretch of Route 66, the most famous interstate highway in the United States, will be the place chosen as a test bed to implement this revolutionary solar-powered paving technology. This generates clean energy, has LED bulbs that illuminate the road at night and offer heating as a measure in case of snow.
Portable solar devices
They are not a novelty. Clocks and solar calculators are two examples of portable solar devices that have been on the market for a long time.
However, innovation has occurred in the textile sector with solar micropanels that are sewn to the fabrics. Two of its applications are the curtains and heated seats of cars. The textile company Marianne Fairbanks is behind this project.
Solar Smart Batteries: innovation in solar energy storage
The main manufacturers of photovoltaic equipment are betting heavily on the development of this storage technology since the market demands it.
Highlight, again, the two Tesla solar batteries:
- The PowerWall for residential use.
- The PowerPack for industrial use.
Smart batteries are still an expensive product, but market demand and constant innovation will cause prices to plummet by 2020, when more efficient and affordable batteries will arrive.
Latest technological advances of solar panels
Solar energy and autoconusmo are becoming the main energy generation method and more and more owners want to put solar panels on their houses even if their roofs are not ideal. In these cases, solar panels mounted on the ground are a good solution.
Solar trackers allow photovoltaic solar panels to maximize electrical output following the sun while moving through the sky. The tracking systems tilt and change direction as the day progresses to always receive optimal solar irradiation. You can find more information about it here.
This technology has been in the market for a long time. However, GTM Research has published a report indicating that the implementation of this type of solution will experience an annual growth of 254%.
Last record of efficiency of solar panels reached
The last years of the solar industry have been a race against time in order to reach the top in terms of efficiency of solar panels.
Almost every week, state-of-the-art solar panels are announced. Recently, the manufacturer of solar panels Oxford PV has created a panel of efficiency 27.3% . It is a panel containing solar cells with Perovskite (the conventional ones are made of silicon) and which is in the commercialization phase.
Under controlled laboratory conditions, efficiencies higher than 40% have been achieved. An MIT research group works on a new technological concept that captures and uses the waste heat emitted by solar panels. This thermal energy, typically released and not used, is one more opportunity that will cause the reduction of photovoltaic solar technology.
Thermal Solar Fuels
The solar thermal fuels or STF by its abbreviations in English are an affordable solution for one of the disadvantages of the solar energy: the storage. It is necessary to find a feasible solution that makes solar energy a 100% sustainable source of energy 24 hours a day.
The technology and process behind the STFs is comparable to that of a typical battery. The STF can take advantage of solar energy, store it as a load and then release it when necessary. The problem with the storage of solar energy in the form of heat, according to MIT experts, is that heat will always dissipate over time, so it is crucial that solar storage technology can charge energy instead of heat capture . The last prototype of STF presented is simply an improvement of a previous design that allowed solar energy to be stored as a liquid substance. In 2016, an STF application was created in solid state that could be implemented in windows, windscreens, car covers and other surfaces exposed to sunlight.
Water purifiers that use solar energy
Researchers at Stanford University collaborated with the US Department of Energy to develop a new device that can purify water when exposed to solar. The tablet of small dimensions (half the size of a seal) is not the first solar device to filter water but has made great advances compared to past inventions, which need previous purifying designs to take advantage of UV rays that require hours of exposure to the solar to completely purify the water. By contrast, the water purifier at Stanford University can access visible light and only requires a few minutes to produce safe drinking water.
As the technology behind water purifiers that use solar energy continues to improve, these devices the size of a computer key are expected to reach the market considering that hikers are an ideal market niche for this product.
What do these new solar panel technologies mean for homeowners in 2018?
Well, it’s great news. Improvements in efficiency, solar storage and equipment capabilities contribute to a higher production of photovoltaic solar panels at a lower cost.