Our energy systems are in need of a serious tuneup, for a number of reasons. Using predominantly petroleum (and other fossil fuel) products for energy production has a couple of major drawbacks, including limited supplies, the release of greenhouse gases and other pollutants during use, and for most countries, the dependence on foreign oil and coal supplies (and the inevitable price increases that go along with that).
But the solar power industry has been pushing out innovations right and left, some of which have the potential to make a serious (and positive) impact on our energy systems.
Here are 6 of the top solar power innovations:
Harvesting solar energy doesn’t have to mean using huge solar panels anymore, thanks to innovations in solar thin film technology. These solar films can be ‘printed’ in rolls, which greatly reduces both the cost and the installation, as well as opening up more opportunities for placement of these solar power producers (such as being integrated into the roofing materials of buildings).
Windows which have been treated with a new electricity generating coating remain see-through, yet have the ability to convert sunshine to energy. The coating of these solar windows produces the world’s smallest functional solar cells, (measure less than ¼ the size of a grain of rice!) and can be applied at room temperature, with no need for specialized production facilities.
This solar balloon isn’t a hot air balloon powered by the sun — it’s a way to use existing technology to harvest solar power on arrays of silvery balloons. Big plastic balloons concentrate and direct solar energy onto solar cells using readily available (and relatively low-cost) components.
No, this solar power innovation isn’t in need of a good shave. It’s actually a product of nanotechnology, using light-absorbing nanowires on carbon-nanotube fabric. These nanowires can absorb more energy from the sun than silicon can, which may allow for more efficient energy harvesting (as well as giving us a fun new term, “hairy solar.”
One of the pieces of the residential solar power puzzle is the inverter – the device which takes the DC power produced by solar panels and transforms it into AC power (which is what our homes are wired to use). The price of an inverter to handle the power you could produce on your rooftop used to be quite high (as well as being inefficient), but with the advent of microinverters, it’s possible to have just one panel (and one inverter) to start your solar power generating station.
The solar energy harvested by current solar panels comes entirely from the visible spectrum, which leaves quite a bit of the light spectrum untapped. But research into adding new materials (vanadium and titanium) to solar semiconductors could mean that in the future, our solar panels will also be able to capture some of the infrared spectrum and turn it into electricity.