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Energy Innovation: 6 Radical Solar Energy Technologies

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of reaching less than $1 a watt for complete installed solar systems by 2020. Reaching $1/watt would bring the cost of solar power to six cents/ kWh, which is cheaper than the average cost from new natural gas power plants and would allow solar to grow without any subsidies. But how are we going to get there? Scientists and entrepreneurs from around the world are working in their labs and garages developing new solar technologies. They range from big leaps in existing technologies to completely transformative innovations. Here’s a list of several new technologies that we’re most excited about.

Solar paint

 

1) Solar Paint

Instead of being limited to flat surfaces, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed low-cost solar paint using nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, coated with cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. Once brushed onto any conducting materials and exposed to the sunlight, the paint will create electricity with a light-to-energy conversion efficiency of 1%.  Its efficiency isn’t high enough for current market use, but hopefully with continued development, we can imagine a day that any surface could generate solar power.

solar fabric

                                                               (Image courtesy of TreeHugger)

2) Solar Fabric

A company called Pvillion is currently making fabric with solar power capabilities for use in commercial applications. The company’s fabric, which is as efficient as standard rigid solar panels, could be used to cover structures such as the US embassy in London, which will have a generation capacity of 124MW.

Photovoltaic windows

3) Solar Windows

One of the ways that solar could become mainstream is by diversifying the locations that it could be placed, rather than just rooftops and large installations in the desert. Companies like Oxford Photovoltaics are working to develop transparent glass solar panels, which would allow windows to become power generators. Imagine how useful this technology could be if we turned every window covering our skyscrapers clean energy producers.    
Solar roadways

4) Solar Roadways

Another location that’s currently being tested for solar capabilities are walkways, roads, and parking lots. Spanish tech company Onyx Solar is currently developing walkable PV floor panels and Solar Roadways is currently prototyping their plan to cover roads with embedded solar panels with 12 x 36 foot parking lot.  Parking lots cover up to 15% of city surfaces and highways crisscrossing all over the country, so the potential for this technology is enormous.

space-based solar

5) Space-based Solar

If we ever run out of space for all these new technologies, we might start getting our energy from outer space. That’s exactly what Solaren Corp is thinking as they plan to beam down solar power from orbit beginning in mid 2016. Even Pacific Gas & Electric is interested in the idea and has agreed to purchase 200 MW of electricity from them.

energy efficiency

6) Increased Efficiency

What about ways to increase the efficiency of today’s technology? Solar panel manufacturer China Sunergy, is building a pilot manufacturing line for a two-sided solar cell that can absorb light from both the front and back. Where one-sided solar panel might generate 340 watts, a two-sided one might generate up to 400 watts. They expect the panels to generate 10 to 20 percent more electricity over the course of a year compared to one-sided panels. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin jointly announced a new record for solar efficiency of 44.7% using CPV or concentrated photovoltaic technology. Although just in the research phase, these efficiencies have the potential to revolutionize the solar industry.

These technologies are just a sample of the great innovations in both business models and technologies happening around the world in the field of photovoltaics. Some of them may not pan out, but many others will and will usher in a new era of renewable energy. For all of us in the field, the future of solar looks very bright.

Content Discussion

Jessee McBroom's picture
Jessee McBroom on November 17, 2013

Thanks for the post Yani. I especially like the space based application by Solaren.

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on November 21, 2013

I invented new Solar Concentrator unit that is stationary and do not use mirrors. As everyone knows, lenses are far more efficient than mirrors and could be made much easier and therefore cheaper.That Solar Concentrator serve also as Greenhouse and so preserve the land for agriculture and can make even unfertile or stony ground into first class arable land, protected from strong winds or rains, snow and  frost , enabling food to be grown whole year around.

Joined with my new and extra productive Wind turbines as part of new HAWT WPSs, New CSP Solar would form a WindSolar PS, able to work 24/365 without need for any kind of backup, on or off Grid, opening at least 360 times greater Windpower resources than known so far, by use of 5m/sec. Wind speed instead of traditionaly required 10m/sec. Wind, which was considered to be of no use while it is present nearly anywhere, 80m above ground. Sunshine could be find anywhere, and with thermal storage situated safely underground and perfectly isolated, Solar can keep harvested Sun heat for months without problems. Where there is not much of sunshine available, just more Solar Concentrators ought to be used to colect it. All surplus electricity produced by Wind can be converted to heat using heaters and stored cheaply in existing Thermal Storage of Solar, to be regenerated when and where it is necesary.

Therefore my WindSolars would be prefect baseload distributed PSs, and cost of 1 MWh from Solar would be under 10 €, where Wind produced electricity would cost under 5€ or much less if there is stronger wind available. WindSolars would be able to produce double quantity of electricity at “Peak Consumption  periods” (or more, depending on availability of energy harwested from Wind, but that should be planned in advance) if they do not last more than 4 hours per day and there is matching 8 hours period of “Low Consumption”  as well. As WindSolars could be situated next to electricity consumers, that save cost of long distance transmission lines, making electricity generated still cheaper than usuall.

That is efficiency where it matters the most, while using available resources.

Compared to Ivanpah, most modern CSP Solar, investor would for same money and for same land use get 5 times greater capacity just in Solar part of WindSolars, plus all energy harvested from Wind, at rate of 12 to 36 MW per each 10 MW per hour of Solar capacity………with land ready for food production as well.

Anybody interested in helping me to start production of WindSolars can contact me directly at oberon(at)globalnet.hr for details. Both inventions are in process of Patenting.

Regards from Croatia, the homeland of Enginer Nikola Tesla!

Marijan Pollak, Inventor