The world of solar power is in constant evolution. There have been many changes in the past years from bifacial modules to clear and frameless ones that it is always good to see what is new in solar. Though most advances seem like small improvements or a larger deployment on existing technologies, it is worth to note these changes.
Solar panel efficiency
The last few years have been a race between solar panel manufacturers to increase efficiency and innovate; but there is one type of cell that has had the fastest technology advance: the perovskite solar cell (PSC). Most cells used today are silicon based; but the PSC cell includes a perovskite structured compound, which thanks to the breakthroughs achieved over the past two years has resulted in an efficiency of over 20% while still being one of the cheapest options in the market.
Additionally, MIT researchers announced that there is a new technology that could double solar cell efficiency, plus a new technology that can capture and utilize the wasted heat usually emitted by solar panels.
Floating solar farms
Photovoltaic solar power systems created to float on bodies of water, also called “floatovoltaics”, can generate enormous amounts of solar power without using valuable land that could be use for crops.
Another benefit of these systems is that floating solar panels have a greater power output than regular installations because of the cooling effect of water. However, the cost of floating solar systems is higher than ground mount arrays; but with project sizes increasing, the cost will go down.
According to Wood Mackenzie, the number of individual installations has been on the rise since 2013 reaching more than 338 installations by the end of 2018. Furthermore, there will be at least 2.4 gigawatts of floating solar installed globally by the end of 2019 with most of the market concentrated in Asia.
Tesla’s solar roof tiles
In the three years that Tesla has been in the solar tile business there has not been a lot of deployment. Consumers are not keen to make that type of investment in their homes when is a new technology that most do not fully understand. If people are going to have an intricate electrical system over their heads, it better be safe and there have been instances where Tesla’s tiles have caught fire. But now that the company is addressing the safety concerns and already have experience, demand could increase.
Tesla currently offers two solar roofs: black tempered glass solar roof tiles combined with non-solar tiles that appear similar, and the concrete tile roof with add-on solar panels.
In October, Tesla unveiled the third version of its solar roof tiles with an increase in size and power density, a reduction in the number of parts by more than half, and an improvement to the edges of the tile that will speed up the installation process. The installation itself may change by partnering with roofers outside of the company and creating a “Tesla-certified installer” program, which could improve the installations and get the product to the market faster. Elon Musk also said that Tesla’s solar roof will cost less than the combined cost of a regular roof installation plus solar panels.
When I worked in solar, a lot of prospective clients were looking for aesthetically pleasing solar panels for their homes. For this reason, homeowners tend to choose smaller/all-black solar panels over the bigger panels with usually blue-ish cells and silver frames.
Taking aesthetics into consideration, Sistine Solar (a Boston-based design firm) has created SolarSkin, which is a screen protector that adheres to the solar panel to make it blend in with the roof. It is completely customizable and also serves as protection for the panels. According to Sistine Solar’s website, SolarSkin graphics do affect panel efficiency, but it is minimal. Another downside is that SolarSkin costs about 10% more than traditional panels.
Solar tracking mounts
Trackers allow solar panels to follow the sun as it moves during the day, thus maximizing the electricity production per panel. Though the technology has been in use for a long time, a new report from GTM Research showed an upward trend in the popularity of this system. The report also stated that by 2021 almost half of all ground mount arrays will have solar tracking.
Tiny solar panels can now be stitched into fabric with the purpose of provide energy while on the go, help people keep warmer and power small electronics like phones. The solar filaments can be embedded into clothing, window curtains, the fabric in car seats, or any other fabric. Researcher are also working on Army related projects to create solar-powered robotic tents.
Energysage, Solar Reviews, Greentech Media