Solar Power is here to stay. Over the past couple of decades solar power has become a multi billion dollar industry worldwide. Recent estimates in the UK say that there are enough solar panels installed to supply energy to 3.8 million homes which is well over 10% of the population.
Despite political set backs and disputes to subsidies and government support in different parts of the world, it seems certain that into the future we will be seeing more and more generation of energy from the sun.
Exactly what form this will take, however, is up for discussion. We have become accustomed to the now traditional roof and ground mounted blue silicon faced solar panels adorning house tiles and warehouse roofs but what innovations are out there? What will the solar power generators of the coming decades look like? And where will we find them?
In this post I will have a look at a few examples of different applications that are being developed meaning solar power will be integrated into our every day life much more subtly.
The Michigan State University in the US is leading research into transparent glass which would generate electricity from any window. By turning any glass surface into a photovoltaic solar generator how we think of windows and energy creation is set for a revolution.
It might seem counter logical: a transparent surface generate electricity, but an ingenious development in Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC) means that light on the surface is indirectly sent to the edge of the panel. Salts inside the window absorb certain UV and IR wavelengths of light and begin to glow. This light is sent to the edge of the sheet where traditional PV converts it into electricity.
The challenge is maximising the efficiency in conversion from light into electricity but researchers are confident. The applications and possibilities once this is reality would be limitless. One complaint people have about solar panels is that they are visibly invasive. Window generators would be practically undetectable!
Ubiquitous Energy already have the ClearView Power available and Physee from Holland are taking this even further with data collecting and analysing PowerWindows.
For those of us who don’t mind having solar generators on display, how does a electricity generating table sound?
Designer Marjan Van Aubel designed the Current Table in 2014 which uses the colour of the dyed glass to produce electricity. Inspired by nature (as most great things are) the colour of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in the glass absorbs ambient light and releases electrons. This current is stored in a battery meaning phones and other devices can be charged from just the light in the environment.
As Designers continue to push boundaries of where and what is producing renewable energy we will see more desirable and practical solutions in our lives.
For more information look into Dye Sensitised Solar Cells (DSSC).
Ultra Thin Solar Cells:
From Inkjet to Spray-on, solar cell developers are really imagining the unimaginable.
As mentioned in other posts, I think we will see a shift from silicon based solar cells to using other materials such Perovskite cells, will increase in the coming years.
These cells can be dissolved into liquid form and then actually sprayed on surfaces. whereby the semi conducting material can be applied to flexible materials. This will mean solar cells can be printed like paper for wide reaching applications. The efficiency of these cells are increasing with further research but their solubility is still an issue; nobody wants a solar panels which disintegrates in the rain!
Inkjet printable solar cells are also a new emerging form of creating customisable solar energy generators in ultra thin form. By sandwiching photoactive material between semiconductor sheets and then ink design on the outside. This would open the world to custom designs for home, travel and work where your graphic of choice would be generating power. Imagine a solar powered T-shirt!
Dracula Technologies are developing this to the point of being able to charge devices as in the video:
Tesla Solar Roof:
Renewable energy pioneer Elon Musk is touting 2018 as the year of the Solar Roof. With new factories in construction and the 110 Megawatt hours (MWh) of energy storage installed in the last few months of 2017 the concept of integrated roof generation would be a massive move to making solar generation an almost imperceivable part of society.
Solar Roof is essentially glass tiled solar cells integrated into roof like installations. The idea is that the whole roof can be made into energy generating surface, maximising coverage with traditional building styles. The idea is to combine these with the Power Wall storage systems and obviously the Tesla electric cars to turn our homes into the complete renewable havens of the future.
The cost is still high but expect this to begin falling with more production in 2018!
Now this one is not so futuristic or ground breaking, but it’s something I notice when I am out around town. The use of solar panels in road signs, lighting or other state installed equipment is something which really encourages me.