Generating electricity by converting the radiant energy from the sun is no longer new or novel. In many countries around the world, it is the leading source of electricity. It is now a lower cost form of energy compared to coal-fired turbines. However, the innovation and change in the industry has been slow.
Developing more efficient solar panels has crawled forward. Twenty years ago, a panel might output just 100 watts, ten years ago it was improved to 200 watts, and now it is over 300 watts and closing on 400 watts per panel. So, the efficacy of the solar panels has gradually improved.
At the same time, the cost per panel has dropped over the same two decades. However, it is still very high. For example, for a 2500 square foot home, the capital outlay is someplace near $18,000.00 to $20,000.00. If you add in a smart battery storage solution to provide 24 hour a day performance, the costs increase by 50% to 100%.
One vendor is noted as providing a subscription service whereby consumers can pay a monthly fee for the solar panels on their rooftop which spreads the costs out and makes it more affordable, but necessitates sharing the benefits to offset the costs.
The way we install solar panels is changing too. The goal has always been to optimize the alignment of the solar panels to the sun. Most installations use a basic fixed-tilt alignment. This is a lower cost approach but is not as optimized so there are compromises. The next strategy is for a single axis tracking solution that physically moves the solar panels up and down on the vertical axis to track the rise and fall of the sun every day. The third approach is a two-axis tracking system which is similar to how larger satellite antennas point at satellites in orbit. These tracking systems can provide a more precise alignment and thereby maximize the energy generated.
Some of the other innovations evolving in 2020 may yield even more benefits and help to improve the usefulness and value proposition for solar power.
Large bodies of water in close proximity to urban and suburban centres have seen floating solar farms. These massive configurations are built to float on ponds and reservoirs. They generate huge volumes of electricity without consuming valuable land. There are other collateral benefits to covering the water as well.
Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), as the name suggests, seamlessly blend into building architecture in the form of roofs, canopies, curtain walls, facades, and skylight systems. Unlike traditional solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, BIPV can be aesthetically appealing rather than a compromise to a building’s design. Of course, aesthetics alone is not enough for solar buyers; economics matters too. The good news is that the BIPV solar panel systems enable homeowners to save on building materials and electric power costs. By substituting BIPV for standard building materials, you can cut down on the additional cost of solar panel mounting systems.
Solar skins are a novel PV technology to integrate custom designs into solar panel systems. The solar skin technology is similar to the ad wraps displayed on bus windows. Sistine, the manufacturer of solar skins, is testing the technology at the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory to increase its efficiency. Solar thin-film skins maintain high efficiency due to its selective light filtration advancements. The sunlight falling on solar skins is filtered to reach the solar cells beneath it. As a result, it simultaneously displays the custom image and provides solar energy. These imprinted custom images, embedded into solar panels, can exactly match your grassy lawns or rooftops of your homes.
Solar radiation is available all over the planet, so why not generate your own energy, wherever required? Imagine that besides producing solar power at a fixed location, you could also do it while on the move through your own clothing. Researchers are developing solar fabrics with a vision of including solar power in each fiber. These solar filaments can be embedded into your t-shirts, winter coats, or any other clothing to help you keep warmer, power your phone, and provide energy for other needs while you’re on the go.
Highway traffic noise in the US has always been a concern for everyone. To overcome this issue, 48 states have built nearly 3,000 miles of traffic noise barriers. Noise barriers were always constructed with the single aim of designing cost-effective barriers that efficiently perform noise abatement functions. However, the goal of the US Department of Energy has now evolved to merge noise abatement with sustainable power generation. Given the widespread use of noise barriers in the US, the potential of producing solar energy from these is likely to be around 400 gigawatt hours (GWh) annually. This is approximately equal to the annual electricity usage of 37,000 homes.
The future of solar looks bright
Solar power was earlier generated only by means of ground-mounted or rooftop panels. But thanks to all the advancements mentioned above, solar is set to become lighter, more flexible, and applicable everywhere.
Imagine all this tech is available and you visit another city. You can buy food at a solar-powered food cart, eat it while traveling on a solar-powered highway, and charge your phone from your solar-powered clothes. This is what the near future looks like!
And there are actually lots of other innovative residential solar technologies in development or currently being rolled out in 2020. Perhaps the most promising new tech is Perovskite solar cells, which could soon be used to create solar paint.
Klender, J. (2020). Tesla updates its solar panel program with more powerful systems at lower pricing. Teslarati. Retrieved on July 3, 2020 from, https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-solar-panel-size-affordable-pricing/
Sandhu, J. (2020). Which new solar panel technologies will revolutionize energy production? Solar Reviews. Retrieved on July 3, 2020 from, https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/solar-panel-technologies-that-will-revolutionize-energy-production
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.