In about a century since the inception of solar PV, the technology has come a long way and experienced exponential growth in efficiencies and durability. At the same time, it underwent an exponential drop in costs, with a staggering 99% drop occurring in just 40 years.
Interestingly, for most of its history, the development has been geared toward improving the crystalline cells and traditional panels that are mounted on roofs or the ground. However, in the past few years, research and development in the field of solar has gone beyond the traditional areas. New materials and processes have been developed, new applications of solar PV that were previously never thought of have been born. Here are five fantastic technologies that we think might revolutionize the coming decade of solar power.
1. Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
As cities became more saturated, energy demands rose and horizontal spaces shrunk, making it more difficult to install solar panels that fulfil maximum energy needs.
Enter BIPV. BIPV disposes the notion that only horizontal roof spaces can be used for installing solar panels. The most common example is integration of solar PV on the vertical sides of buildings, also known sometimes as solar glass. Research states that the BIPV market will be over $35 billion by 2025, which is enough reason to take it seriously.BIPV (Source – Lumen Design)
2. Floating Solar Plants
In the last decade, it wasn’t just BIPV that broke stereotypes. Floating solar plants, as straightforward as the name sounds, took solar plants from ground areas or roofs to water surfaces. This brings surprising benefits such as the cooling potential of water for maintaining panel efficiencies even in high temperatures, which are known to notably reduce efficiency.
In areas with water scarcity, floating solar plants can also aid in the reduction of water evaporation from important public water bodies. The worldwide installed capacity of floating solar PV already stands at over 1.3GW, a respectable number!A floating solar plant in Lithuania (source – DW)
3. Novel Cell Materials
Although for the most part the solar power sector has mainly focused on crystalline silicon, newer materials are providing promising results and may soon be market ready and commercially feasible. The most noteworthy examples are Gallium Arsenide (fun fact: The Mars rover sports GaAs cells) and perovskites, materials that push the limits of efficiency from the existing 20% to 30% or more. Lab research on multi-junction cells has even produced efficiencies over 40%, showing a glimpse of the future.Perovskite solar cell (source – Phys.org)
4. Solar fabric
Rigid, brittle, and relatively bulky solar panels might soon be a thing of the past as scientists have developed fabric infused with solar PV. It can be used from power generating tents to clothing and might have huge flexibility in everyday use.Solar Fabric (source – Quartz)
5. Concentrated Photovoltaic
Not to be confused with CSP (a thermal energy technology), concentrated photovoltaics focuses more light on a smaller cell area to produce higher efficiencies. This is intriguing because it tries replacing expensive cell materials with cheaper optical materials, thus producing more energy for potentially lower costs. Though not at a point where they can be manufactured to scale, concentrated PV offers an excellent solution to minimize the costliest component while maintaining power generation capacities.Schematic of a concentrated photovoltaic unit (source – Green Rhino Energy)
Some other interesting PV technologies:
- Solar paint
- Solar noise barriers
- Space-based solar
- Multi-junction cells