Renewable energy is taking the center stage as global warming, and environmental degradation threatens the world. According to the Renewable Capacity Statistics 2018 report, global renewable energy capacity increased to 2179 GW by the end of 2017. Among all the renewable resources, solar power has been growing exponentially; solar photovoltaics grew by 32%, while wind power increased by 10%. This growth is due to technological advancements that have reduced costs considerably; solar panel prices were 227 times higher in 1975 ($101.5/watt) than they are today ($0.44/watt).
By looking at the technological advancements, it seems that it won’t be long before solar power becomes ubiquitous. Here are some solar technologies that are changing the dynamics of the solar industry:
1. Perovskite Solar Cells
Although still under research and development, these cells have the potential to disrupt the solar market. The cells are manufactured from synthetic crystalline materials, which imitate the original mineral perovskite. They are the best alternative to the conventional silicon-based solar panels as they are easy to produce and flexible since they can be easily sprayed or painted on any surface.
They are also more efficient than the traditional solar cells; conventional solar cells have a 22% efficiency, while Perovskite solar cells have reached a 22.7% efficiency level, which can theoretically go up to 40%. Moreover, these cells are so thin that they can be applied over any solar panel, boosting its production.
The cells are not commercial yet because they degrade quickly in the presence of humidity. Also, they have high lead content. Scientists, however, are trying to find a way out. In fact, researchers at Brown University have come up with a titanium-based material for making stable and lead-free perovskite cells.
2. Solar skin design
Solar panels are usually bulky and disrupt the aesthetics of a rooftop. In March 2018, a Boston-based company Sistine Solar became the talk of the town as it introduced solar skin designs. These solar skins allow customers to customize their solar installation according to their rooftops so that the solar panels do not look odd. Although Sistine Solar has not revealed exactly how the solar panels work, the basic idea is that maximum light filters through the skin to the solar cells. The company only sells high-quality monocrystalline panels sourced from credible companies such as LG and also offers a 10-15 years warranty. As for the cost, there is only a 10 percent increase.
Sistine Solar is not the only company that is working on this concept. Recently, Tesla also announced a new idea that equips roof tiles with solar energy generating capability. Although the solar roof is not cheaper than the traditional rooftop, it results in considerable savings in electricity bills.
3. Solar thermal fuel
Even though solar power is an excellent renewable resource, there is one drawback associated with it, that is storage. For solar power to be a sustainable source of energy with 24 hours supply, there must be a proper storage system. While batteries are one option, they are not feasible as a solution for the masses due to their high price. Hence, MIT researchers have tried to come up with a cost-effective solution. In 2016, they developed a thin transparent polymer layer that could store solar energy during the day and release it later as heat. The problem with this is that heat dissipates over time, which can lead to loss of energy. However, researchers are working on a solution, and MIT professor, Jeffrey Grossman, and his team have come up with an improved design.
4. Solar windows
Solar windows are essentially solar panels in a window form. The windows generate energy on their exposure to sunlight through quantum dots, which are semiconductors that transfer the light to the edges of the windows where solar cells convert them into energy.
Around 8.3 billion square meters of solar glass installation is expected in buildings worldwide by 2020. It would be able to produce a terawatt at an optimum level, which translates into 9% of the world’s yearly electricity consumption in 2016. Although solar windows may not be as effective as solar panels, they are a useful solution. They are a bit expensive to install, but the savings are enormous.
5. Solar Paint
From solar panels to windows and now solar paint. Seems like fiction, but it is not. Researchers from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have come up with a special paint that can produce hydrogen with the help of sunlight and moist air. This particular paint has titanium oxide, which is already a component of conventional paints, and molybdenum-sulfide, a substance that is used in packaging to absorb moisture. Once molybdenum-sulfide absorbs sunlight and moisture from the air, it breaks down water into oxygen and hydrogen, which is used in fuel cells. The paint can significantly increase the productivity of a place as it can also be applied to areas that do not get enough sunlight to justify the installation of solar panels. For now, the technology is still not commercialized, but it is expected to hit the market soon.
The benefits of renewable energy have managed to attract a lot of investment. A lot of companies are jumping on the bandwagon. A lot of digitalization has also taken place in the industry; solar has been moving to the cloud, which is making maintenance and data collection more efficient.
Renewable energy not only cuts down costs but also saves lives. According to a WHO report, around 4.2 million premature deaths occurred in 2016 due to air pollution. Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory stated in their report around 3000 to 12,700 pre-mature deaths did not happen due to renewable energy, which led to a cost saving of $29.7–112.8 billion.
The importance of green energy cannot be more emphasized now when the world is suffering from environmental degradation and global warming. Renewable energy is the best solution to our problem, and hence the world needs to speed up in deploying green energy technology.