Solar: what’s new and investable?
By Jaspreet Kaur, PhD, Data Analyst
The conventional solar is presumed to be on rooftops and in farms. Well, there are more avenues to think when it comes to going solar. Engineers are discovering eccentric techniques to use solar panels to meet significant electricity demands and cut land costs. For instance, Solar Roadways is one such concept based on solar panels that you can drive, park and walk on. Interestingly, they would also melt snow and lessen pollution by 75%. Netherlands have already implemented this concept and they believe it is already more efficient than their expectations. Floating solar farms wants to utilize the abundant water area on Earth to set up solar farms and China is turning heads with its new floating plant, which is working with a capacity to lighten up 15000 houses. Such technology, although under experimentation, can reduce dependence on huge land for building solar plants.
Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) is a space-based satellite sunlight capture technology, which converts sun’s energy into microwave energy that is then beamed back to earth. It is comparatively easier to capture nearly ninety percent of sunlight round the clock with optimally positioned satellites. The absence of diffusing atmosphere further favors such capture. India, China and Japan are investing heavily in these technologies right now. Solar textiles are another avenue to introduce solar in daily lives. Solar curtains and car seats can save much energy dependence from non-conventional sources. This emerging technology was inducted by textile designer Marianne Fairbanks from University of Wisconsin-Madison and chemist Trisha Andrew from University of Massachusetts-Amherst. These unusual ways to implement solar technology can harness the huge solar abundance and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Solar is versatile!
Efficiency Enhancements and Cost Effectiveness
Solar Industry thrives on innovation in solar cell technology to enhance solar cell efficiency which is determined as the fraction of incident power which is converted to electricity. Solar technologies have flourished enormously since their first introduction six decades ago. The potential breakthroughs have changed the face of solar in recent times. Solar cell standard efficiency is 15%, which implies 85% of the solar energy is unexploited. This is a major concern, which gives sleepless nights to researchers and commercial solar vendors alike.
One such advancement in improving the solar cell efficiency is an innovation by scientists from University of Toronto. They developed light-sensitive nanoparticles called colloidal quantum dots to provide a more flexible and less expensive alternative for solar cells. The supremely effective dots could be mixed into inks and painted or printed onto thin, flexible surfaces, such as roofing materials which can eliminate the extra installation cost and increase the accessibility of solar power to general public. Thin film technology which uses a narrow coating of readily available magnesium chloride enhances the conversion of sunlight to electricity process in solar cells and can empower the solar cell industry increasing the efficiency by 2% to 15%. The triple junction solar cells offer promising substitutes as they provide thrice the efficiency than a regular solar cell. For a complete picture of which type of solar cell is best financially suitable, solar calculators available online can make that decision easy with a rough estimate. One such example of solar calculator is by Energysage, which serves now in several U.S. locations.
Solar is becoming efficient and affordable each year!
Anti-reflection Technologies and Competent Market
Solar panels require high transmittance of incident light at all incidence angles for best performance. Regular glass with no coating can lose up to 35% of the incident light especially at larger incident angles at dawn and dusk. Anti-reflective (AR) coatings are the only solution to huge reflection losses. North America is the leading market in anti-reflective coatings and would be a leading market in developing innovative AR technology for the next few years. The second in the competition is the Asia-Pacific region due to the booming economies in India and China. European Union follows next due to a huge investment in green economy. Many big companies like DSM Solar use sol-gel technology to make nonporous AR coatings, which boosts the performance of the solar panels by 3%. Semco technologies utilizes PECVD system for neat anti-reflective coating and passivation processes. Recently, nanotechnology has permeated the AR solar market. For instance, Solar Sharc embeds multi-functionalised silica nano-particles in a silioxane matrix to provide ultra-transparent, self-cleaning, temperature resistant and 4% increase in solar module efficiency. Watt glass uses a patented technology based on silica nanoparticle film to provide superhydrophobic and anti-reflective properties to its glass. In April this year, Edgehog, a Canadian startup company produced a bio-inspired nanotextured superhydrophobic anti-reflective glass which can replace conventional AR coatings.
Solar is future !