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Factoid: The Powerful Force of Solar Energy

Publisher to LA Confidential, Winter 2019

Happening currently, in a galaxy not so far away, is solar energy innovation. While solar energy is an expanding filed, its usage is low compared to fossil fuels. Solar accounts for 2% and fossil 60% of US power, respectively. Limitations for solar power include storage costs and accessibility to sunlight. However, recent developments may further enhance solar power’s capacity.

According to a recent ScienceDaily article, collaborations between Purdue University, Georgia Tech, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new material that boosts solar power’s conversion into heat energy. Most photovoltaics generate power by directly converting solar energy into electricity, but solar to heat energy is another promising option.

Heat energy is created by directing several panels towards a cache of molten salt, which then transfers the stored heat to supercritical CO2, which spins a turbine. To make the turbines handle more heat, and spin more, developers changed the materials from stainless steel and nickel alloy to a ceramic/metal composite.  Not only do these composites handle higher heat and pressure, the scaling costs are expected to be lower. In addition, such plants can store the heat energy for use overnight, a huge benefit.

It appears cutting-edge solar technology is not limited to those pesky TIE fighters!

Source: New material, manufacturing process use sun’s heat for cheaper renewable electricity

Catherine Luthin's picture

Thank Catherine for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 18, 2019 11:34 am GMT

Thanks for the post, Catherine. I'm curious how much you think improvements in solar material efficiencies will aid the advent of solar power. While better power conversion rates are of coures great, it seems like the efficiency of today's tech is already good enough to make solar  penetrate the market and it's the installation costs that are the bigger detractor from solar reaching its full potential. 


Catherine Luthin's picture
Catherine Luthin on Jan 21, 2019 3:23 pm GMT

Thanks for your comments. I anticipate the cost of renewables including installation will decline as renewables become the standard rather than the exception. I believe this may happen sooner than many currently anticipate.

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