Solar power has come a long way from when Bell Labs presented the first photovoltaic cell in 1954. Researchers are brainstorming all kinds of ways to improve the collection of solar energy, reported Green America.
For example, Los Angeles-based startup Sunflare has developed solar panels that are incredibly thin, flexible, and light. They replaced the traditional silicon and glass with new materials to create a semiconductor so thin that you’d need a microscope.
Super-thin solar panels can be installed almost anywhere using a special adhesive, which is good news for owners of commercial buildings who don’t want to drill holes in their roofs. Their flexibility allows them to be placed on curving surfaces as well as flat roofs.
Because they weigh 75 percent less than older silicon panels, they can be installed on the thin roofs of distribution centers and warehouses.
Furthermore, Sunflare panels feature more diodes so that they can bypass any area that gets covered or shaded. In comparison, older solar panels will shut down if cut off from light.
These qualities make them perfect for off-grid homes like trailer homes, small houses, or RVs.
Home batteries, solar roof tiles, solar windows
Companies have created “home batteries” that can store solar energy for use at night. Tesla has its famous Powerwall, a giant lithium ion battery with 10 Kilowatt hours capacity, while Nissan thoughtfully recycled batteries from its electric cars for its cheaper xStorage system.
Tesla also offers Solar Roof tiles, which are photovoltaic panels disguised as regular roof tiles. Available in four styles that blend in with your roof, the Solar Roof can be installed on either the sunny side or the entire surface.
The company claims the photovoltaics can last for up to 30 years while the tile itself will last as long as your house. Tesla provides an online calculator that computes the monthly cost of your Solar Roof, your energy savings, and any tax incentives.
To sell its Solar Roof panels, Tesla plans to set up kiosks in 800 Home Depot stores across the U.S.
The window equivalent of solar panels are under development by Maryland-based SolarWindow Technologies and its partner Triview Glass Industries. They have devised liquid transparent coatings that can turn glass into photovoltaic devices.
If successful, SolarWindow’s coatings could transform skyscrapers into giant solar power plants. Given buildings account for 40 percent of electrical consumption in the U.S., solar windows could save up to $60 billion dollars annually.
Their Dutch counterpart Physee already has patents for its own solar window product. PowerWindows are installed in commercial office buildings throughout the Zuidas business district. They will also be installed in the BOLD high-rise in Amsterdam.
Solar energy powers hydrogen creation, trash compactors, and dockless bike-sharing
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) revealed a prototype solar paint in 2017. It uses synthetic molybdenum-sulphide to collect moisture from the air and titanium oxide to collect solar energy that can break down water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Its inventor, Dr. Torben Daeneke, said the final version will feature membranes to harvest the hydrogen as fuel.
Clean energy advocates like Danny Kennedy are excited about anything that increases the accessibility of solar power. He cites BigBelly, a solar-powered trash compactor that reduces street litter and increases the efficiency of garbage collection.
Bike-sharing systems are another model empowered by solar energy. The bike baskets of dockless systems like Mobile have a solar panel that connects the lock and GPS to a phone app. This makes it easy for customers to find, reserve, and unlock their bikes.
“The U.S. pioneered something world-changing, literally,” said Kennedy. “Photovoltaics… already have and are going to continue to completely transform civilization until we become a completely solar-powered society.”