TMCnet Feature
March 03, 2017

5 Technological Advancements Priming Solar Energy for Growth

By Larry Alton, Special Guest Contributor, Alton Enterprises

Every year, solar energy becomes a little cheaper to produce, a little easier to store, and a little more accepted by the general public as a method of generating electricity. As we move into yet another year of solar adoption at both a residential and a business level, it’s insightful to look into the most recent technological advancements and see what the future holds.

These five technological breakthroughs and promising initiatives prove that solar energy has practically infinite possibilities for development:

1. Artificial Leaves. Plants are naturally able to produce energy using sunlight in combination with water and carbon dioxide. Studying this effect, scientists are hoping a new structure similar to an artificial leaf will result in greater solar energy production efficiency. With two electrodes separated by a membrane, the artificial leaf uses sunlight to oxidize water molecules. From there, the water is separated into oxygen and hydrogen, and hydrogen gas is then cultivated to be used as fuel. For now, the system is not cost-effective enough to be used on a large scale, but the opportunity is there.

2. PV Coatings. Photovoltaic units are the standard for solar energy production, so there’s an entire branch of solar research dedicated to making those units more efficient with a simple coating. One new coating, a result of research from the University of California Riverside, adheres to the surface of panels to allow solar radiation outside the natural visible human range to be absorbed and converted to energy (for example, infrared and ultraviolet radiation could be absorbed in this system). Ultimately, it could increase efficiency by 30 percent or more.

3. Butterfly-Style Folding. Artificial leaves aren’t the only product of studying nature to come to the solar energy industry. Some recent research from the University of Exeter evaluated a specific species of butterfly which tends to launch into flight faster than other species on cloudy days. Their findings suggested that the butterfly uses a unique wing shape that focuses sunlight onto a specific point on its back, thereby heating its muscles and enabling it to take flight faster. Now, researchers are using this V-shape as a template for folding solar energy panels, which would then focus sunlight more efficiently onto a single point.

4. New Battery Systems. One of the biggest challenges for solar energy production has been the storage and subsequent use of energy, as the sun isn’t in the sky 24 hours a day. Some new research from Griffith University tackled this energy storage problem by using a kind of “smart battery” in conjunction with energy forecasting and a sophisticated control center. Essentially, this battery retains as much energy as possible, studying data to interpret when consumers will need it most and dispensing it accordingly. On a large scale, such a system could theoretically greatly improve the capacity and efficiency of any solar energy system.

5. Non-Photovoltaic Solar Power. For years, photovoltaic panels have been the face of solar energy, but they aren’t the only way to generate power from the sun. Until recently, they’ve just been the most productive way. Now, researchers are working on a new form of concentrating solar thermal power (CSP (News - Alert)), which uses a system of tiny mirrors to focus sunlight on a single point, almost like a super-powered magnifying glass. The heat would be transferred to water or a similar liquid, which could then power an electrical generator. Because heat can be stored more efficiently and cheaply than electricity, it could prove to be a formidable competitor in the near future, branching off into its own subcategories and applications.

With each new technological development, solar energy becomes more affordable, more efficient, and more available to the public. With diverse forms of energy production, unique structures to maximize efficiency, and intuitive storage that makes distribution a cinch, the next few years promise to be exciting ones for the world of solar.

Edited by Alicia Young

Edited by Alicia Young
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