There have been some exciting advancements in the technology of harnessing solar power. Photovoltaic (PV) cells used to be expensive, not very efficient and difficult to install, making the wonderful source of renewable solar energy too unfeasible to be used extensively. However, solar panels have become, and are becoming, more and more economically viable as they become cheaper, more efficient and simpler to use.
However, there have lately been some innovations indicating a trend away from traditional PV panels, which will provide environmentally conscious users with far more flexibility in how they use solar power. Here are just a couple of the more interesting technologies.
Fibre-optic solar cells that can be woven into clothing
An international team of engineers, physicists, and chemists took optical fibres made from glass, which they turned into a solar cell that essentially works the same way as conventional cells by generating energy from the photovoltaic effect. They did this by injecting n-, i-, and p-type silicon into the fibre using high-pressure chemical vapour deposition.
The fibre-optic cells are thinner than a strand of human hair, flexible and durable, and could theoretically be woven into clothing. The US military is already interested in using this to create a wearable power source for soldiers, but the application has far more potential, such as clothing that can recharge your cell phone.
As we start considering bionic implants and other biomedical devices, a wearable power source would certainly be useful. Think Iron Man with his personal power source.
Sulfurcell, who has been named by The Guardian as one of the world’s top 100 cleantech companies for two years, has produced a modular solar panel that can add energy-generating capabilities to any building. The ultra-thin panels are completely self-contained and don’t require any substructure, making them a flexible option for users. Further, they can be added to new buildings, or retro-fitted onto existing structures.
The panel, which can be used in the place of conventional wall-cladding, is comprised of a protective frameless glass exterior layered over an enclosed, durable solar module. A hair-thin semiconductor layer is then coated onto the back of the glass surface. The panels are rear-ventilated to keep them cool and operating at maximum efficiency. To add to their appeal, production of these alternative cells use only half the energy used to manufacture conventional solar modules, keeping costs down.
Clearly, solar power has a bright future. The more these and other technologies are developed, the more marketable renewable energy will become. Economic viability is a deciding factor in to what extent we make use of alternative forms of energy, and unfortunately funding new technology isn’t as simple as individuals acquiring loans. But as these scientific developments indicate, with the increasing cost and scarcity of conventional energies, there has clearly been a move to investing in sustainable sources.