Right after the first practical photovoltaic cell was developed at Bell Laboratories in 1954, solar power has often been looked upon as a source of energy that could bring about a change in the current scenario of global warming and climate change making our planet a better place to live in. However, just like most other forms of renewable energy, solar energy too is marred with a few drawbacks such as the inability to continually harness energy, the hefty price tags of solar cells and the inefficiency of panels based on conventional silicon.
While the present energy scenario isn’t that good, the future definitely looks promising with research groups around the globe coming up with technologies that could not only make solar power affordable but also better the efficiency of panels and change the conventional face of photovoltaics for ever. Here is a list of five of the biggest advancements in solar panel technology that promise a bright future.
We all know that the amount of renewable energy that can be produced by a conventional solar panel is directly proportional to the amount of incident light. While we cannot force the sun to emit out more light so that we can generate more power, we can definitely make use of technology that somehow amplifies sunlight so that more power can be generated. That’s what concentrated photovoltaics is all about. CPV or concentrated photovoltaics uses optics such as lenses to concentrated a large amount of sunlight onto a small area of photovoltaic material to generate energy. Unlike conventional photovoltaics, CPV is more affordable as only a small percentage of photovoltaic material is used to generate energy. Theoretically, if incident sunlight is amplified by a factor of 10, the output energy should also be ten times. However, the problem here is that solar cell efficiency goes down as the temperate of the panel rises. To counter this concentrated photovoltaic panels come with some kind of a cooling mechanism so that temperature can be regulated to ensure a steady efficiency.
Harnessing infrared light:
Even the best photovoltaic solar panels on the market cannot convert about 40 percent of incident light into energy as that percentage belongs to the infrared spectrum of light, which conventional panels are not tuned to harness. Recently, researchers at the MIT have developed an all-carbon solar panel that can convert incident infrared light into usable electricity. Based on the use of two different forms of carbon including carbon nanotubes and C60, this all-new technology helps solar panels capture incident sunlight at all ends of the spectrum, resulting in solar panels that can produce more energy without using expensive concentrators.
Hybrid solar panels:
Whenever we think of solar panels, we either think about blackish panels that can produce electricity for our homes or we think of panels that can produce hot water for our bathrooms. What if a single panel can do both – that’s what a company called Naked Energy is up to. The company has developed a new technology whereby electricity generating photovoltaic cell is integrated with a hot-water generating solar thermal tube. Dubbed Virtu, the panels can simultaneously heat water and produce renewable electricity. Since solar panels don’t work as well at a high temperature, the research team had to equip their panels with a patented thermosyphon technology that harvests unwanted heat from the solar panel to heat water.
Solar panels that can work on indoor light:
Mostly solar panels are designed to stay outdoors so that they can get ample sunlight, which they can further convert into usable electricity. However, all the lighting that we have indoors is usually wasted. An Irish company, SolarPrint, has developed tech to harness indoor energy using a printable solar panel. The very innovative solar cell technology can convert light from any indoor light source into usable electricity. Though, the panels aren’t very efficient in doing so, they are using a kind of energy that’s usually wasted, so it’s always a win-win situation.
Transparent solar panels:
Since most solar panels are dark in color, most décor conscious homeowners don’t want to install them even on their rooftops to generate renewable energy. Renewable energy company 3M is trying to address the issue with transparent solar cell film that can turn any ordinary window into a power house. The solar film features translucent green strips that can be glued to any window to produce enough energy to charge an iPhone under peak sunlight, while still allowing sunlight to enter your home’s interior. Though, the product currently isn’t efficient and can produce only 20 percent of the electricity of a traditional silicon solar panel, more research could better the credentials and make the panels a viable renewable energy generation option in the urban world.