Time to Learn About Solar Technology in 2018
2018 is almost over. This has been an innovative year for the solar technology industry. Solar technology is usually broken off into two major categories: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). In the PV category, solar PV technology captures sunlight in order to generate electricity. In the CSP category, CSP harnesses the sun’s heat and directs it into thermal energy to power turbines or heaters. These two categories of solar energy have become more innovative as the solar industry has become more popular in recent years.
There have been major technological developments in the solar industry in 2018 and these advancements are worth noting because they show how much the solar industry has grown in recent years. Money, time, and resources have been poured into solar technological development and that is due to the increase in solar power use in the past decade.
Solar Skin Design
Solar panels are known to be environmentally friendly and a money-saving tactic for many homeowners. However, one caveat has always been how “unsightly” solar panels can be when added onto homes. Sistine Solar, a Boston-based design firm, has a solution to this dilemma. The MIT startup has created a “solar skin” that allows solar panels to have a more distinguished and aesthetically pleasing look. They are attempting to market solar panels as a luxury product, rather than just an efficient upgrade for homeowners. Their solar panels are customizable and can match the roof shingles on a home without diminishing panel efficiency or output. Their “solar skin” panels have been on the market since earlier this year and are about 10% more expensive than ordinary solar panels.
Solar Powered Roads
During the summer of 2018, solar PV technology made a huge breakthrough with the trial testing of solar-powered roads. The sidewalks along Route 66 were picked as a testing location for the solar-powered pavement technology. The solar-powered roadways were tested, and the results were favorable for the future of the solar industry. The solar-powered roads generated plenty of solar power (a win for clean energy enthusiasts) and included LED bulbs that can light the roads for nighttime drivers. Worried about snow-covered roads during the winter? The solar-powered roads also have the thermal heating capacity to melt snow during the dreary cold months. From the success of the 2018 summer trials, the next step is to install solar-powered roadway segments in Route 66 for the year 2019 and conduct further testing.
Wearable Solar Technology
We have all heard of solar powered watches and other similar devices, but for the years 2017 and 2018 an even more desirable invention has been produced: solar textiles. Yes, textiles as in fabric! Tiny solar panels can now be stitched into clothing fabric. These solar products are quite different than the hard-plastic material that solar-powered watches are made with. The solar textile technology can be expanded into products such as window curtains or even heated car seats. This amazing innovation is being created and perfected by textile designer Marianne Fairbanks and chemist Trisha Andrews. They are predicting that solar textiles will be sold on the market in the very near future!
Solar batteries and Solar Storage
As more homeowners are installing solar panels, the demand for off-grid solar and solar plus storage have also seen an increase. The Tesla Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery product with liquid thermal control, was put on the market in 2015. The Powerball is still the leader in solar battery sales in today’s market. Tesla currently offers two storage products, the Powerwall for residential use and the Powerpack for commercial use. In 2018 Tesla launched Powerwall 2.0., which has been advertised as the future of solar battery storage. Even though Solar storage is still quite an expensive product, 2018 has shown that solar batteries can be more efficient then they have been in previous years.
Solar Tracking Mounts
Solar panels are in higher demand then they ever have been. More and more homeowners across the country are having them installed on their roofs. Not everyone has a roof that is ideal for panels, but please do not be deterred; ground-mounted solar technology is a very efficient option and that is all thanks to tracking mount technology. Solar trackers allow solar panels to have the maximum electricity production because it follows the sun’s movement across the sky. PV tracking systems will tilt and move the angle of a solar panel as the day goes by in order to match it up with where the sun is located in the sky. This technology has been around for a while but has become more affordable in recent years (especially in 2018). In fact, there has been a 254% year-over-year increase for solar PV tracking products this year. There is an estimation by the GTM Research firm that by 2021 almost half of the installed ground mount panels will have solar tracking capabilities included.
Solar Panel Efficiency Increase
The solar panel efficiency rating in 2018 is 22.2%, which is held by premium panel manufacturer SunPower. This efficiency percentage was at an all-time high of 23% in 2016 and has been around the same level for the past two years. A 22% efficient solar panel is a very good rating for a solar panel to have (especially when compared to efficiency ratings from 10 years ago). This rating will only increase as more research goes into developing solar technologies. Also, in 2018 the mainstream markets have seen improvements in cost per watt, which is the metric that examines the affordability of solar panels. Due to breakthroughs in Perovskite solar panels (as compared to the silicon cells that Americans mostly use today), 2018 has introduced 22% efficiency in solar panels and one of the lowest cost options available on the market.
MIT has also announced a new technology to more than double the efficiency of solar panels. They have discovered a potential technological concept that can capture and use “waste heat” that is emitted by solar panels. The “waste heat” off of solar panels is the heat that dissipates and therefore is unharnessed thermal energy. MIT hopes to create an invention to utilize this wasted energy and to make solar technology cost even less than it does not.
Solar thermal fuel (STF)
An alternate storage solution for solar energy has been found! Solar thermal fuel is a relatively new innovation for 2018 and shows much promise for the future of the solar industry. Solar storage is important because the more access to solar storage (batteries), the more solar power you would have available to you at all times. Solar Energy is harnessed by the panels and that charge is stored with batteries. A battery is a chemical energy storage device that converts the charge into chemical energy. Solar Thermal Fuels (STFs) are just like batteries because they convert and store solar energy as chemical energy, which can be released when needed. Solar storage is a tricky concept because heat dissipates over time. That is why STFs need to charge energy rather than capture and lose heat. The latest STF prototype allows solar power to be stored as a solid substance and could be implemented in windows, windshields, car tops, and other surfaces that are exposed to the sun.
Solar water purifiers
Stanford University and the Department of Energy have begun developments on a solar technology that can purify water when exposed to sunlight. This process consists of a tiny tablet, about the size of a postage stamp, and is a major stride in efficiency for solar water purifying technology. Prior projects have used UV rays and needed hours of direct sunlight to purify water. However, this invention can access visible light and only needs a few minutes of sunlight to purify water. 2018 has produced many successful trials of this futuristic product and it is projected that hikers or campers will soon be able to pack this minuscule tablet to take with them on their adventures.
Homeowners in 2018: What These Innovations Mean for You
This long list of solar panel technology advancements means only the best news for you. Efficient upgrades, storage improvements, and other innovations mean that solar power is more efficient and more affordable than ever before. Below are a few other technology innovations that 2018 has brought to you. Please consider them if you are looking to add solar power technologies to your home. Already have solar power? Then this list will hopefully allow you to see what is available to you and what you may want to upgrade to!
- Frameless solar panels: a very aesthetically pleasing design in glass
- Clear solar panels: also uses glass solar panels and are mounted between two glass casings
- Glass solar panels in a skylight: an innovation from Europe, this gives you a large glass solar panel that can be mounted over a skylight
- Double-Sided Solar: LG introduced a bifacial solar panel that is frameless and sleek looking. They also have a 25% increase in power output because they are double-sided.
“Solar Panel Technology Advances”. EnergySage, 2018. https://news.energysage.com/solar-panel-technology-advances-solar-energy/
“10 Breakthrough Technologies 2018: Solar Cells.” Technology Review, 2018. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603497/10-breakthrough-technologies-2018-hot-solar-cells/
“What’s New in Solar Energy Research in 2018”. Forbes, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/07/06/whats-new-in-solar-energy-research-in-2018/#39ff04e04743