With more and more homes and businesses within the UK having solar panels installed or considering having renewable electricity as part of their future the industry is within a period of upsurge in demand. This increase in demand has led to vast research and development study increases at educational institutes globally in the last few years with some truly innovative solar products being produced as a result. Such products include domestic glass units which to the untrained eye can seem like a typical stained glass window. However this glass has the capabilities to harvest the UV rays and send the energy generated to a connected USB port for energy utilisation. Developed by the dutch designer Martin van Aubel you can get further information regarding this from the excellent write up on stained solar glass here.
Further Solar Panel Innovation
This innovation is just the tip of the iceberg with as said educational institutes receiving huge government and private equity investment across various solar PV projects leading to some very exciting products emerging on the horizon. While some have come to fruition many more remain on the drawing board. However below is a list of some of the most cutting edge solar power solutions either in use or close to commercial release.
Top 5 solar panel innovations 2015
1. Mobile Solar Film
While solar panel phone chargers are nothing new they are unsightly and can often mean that you have to either have a pack attached to the phone or you also need to have small cells attached to the phone. Suffice to say they haven’t caught on especially when you consider that phones are getting more slim line while many also require increased power supply due to their smart capabilities. These key points have not been lost on Kyoreca the Japanese phone manufacturer who have invested in a built in solar charging film.
The beauty of this solar powered feature is its virtual obscurity as it resides underneath the screen of the glass and as such is protected from damage, wear and tear. The technology is being referred to as the Wysips solar layer and will be undetectable to the end user. The technology for the film has been developed by Sunpartner Technologies and it is the incorporating of this layer into the phone which could both parties say attribute to a potential 30% increase in charge across the day of a phones full capacity in a standby state. Thus in the future if put into mass distribution and dependent on the make and model the technology could see further charge increase capabilities. Tests on prototypes have been encouraging and it is hope that upcoming trade shows will help to gain further market interest.
What is additionally impressive is the ability of the phone to charge both indoors and outdoors offer over 85% current transportation and the ability to produce 2.5 MW’s per square centimeter and all of this without any loss of screen and picture quality. Also impressive is the solar film manufactures claim that they expect to increase this by 4 MW’s per squared centimeter within the following 12 months.
Considering these quotes and also how the tendency at present for bigger screens is ever increasing the potential for a phone which is far more self sufficient does appear to be on the horizon. While both parties have been quick to stress that the solar film technology would not be able to provide a phone that has an endless supply of power it does provide exciting early developments into the utilisation of solar in a manner that the general population are far more likely to use.
2. Solar Material
More fact than fiction solar material is in production within the UK and beyond, more accurately known as solar cloth the technology provide huge potential for greater utilisation of renewable energy in ways that had previously been unimaginable. The technology works by having solar cell interwoven into the material and due to its diversity provides huge upscale potential.
One of the other key benefits of this technology is its attribute for flexibility as at present conventional solar generation is rigid and usually affixed to a structure however material offers a freedom that can not be ascertained from a standard system. With early claims from the UK developers “The Solar Cloth Company” that the material has the capabilities to act as a sail for a small boat and to harness enough energy to power the vessel this marks an indication of what is achievable with the technology. Additional offerings include the covering of buildings with an alternative to standard commercial solar systems and even the utilisation into clothing.
Weight is also an additional huge bonus that solar material can provide with a standard 250W solar panel weighing as much as 22kg on average with a comparative solar cloth offering only weighing 3kg. As such you can begin to understand the potential it can provide to many sectors who had previously been unable to utilise a solar pv system. One of the key beneficiaries of the technology so far have been UK councils who have been utilising the technology in the form of solar canopies on public buildings, this “The Solar Cloth” company has reiterated has provided not only vastly needed investment but also recognition from the UK government for this technology and its potential for the future.
3. Solar Refrigerators
While utilising solar power for heat is nothing new the ability to generate energy for refrigeration is an area that had previously received little case for investment until now. This is set to change with the production of large scale solar refrigerators which are manufactured by “The Solar Cool Equipment” company. The potential savings that can be provided to commercial and industrial companies who utilise chillers on a daily basis is huge.
On a recent installation of a commercial facility in Malta the solar refrigeration installed on the project is set to cut costs by over 70% annually for the investor Aquilina Refrigeration supplies. It is not only the energy savings capabilities of the technology that are being praised but also the maintenance of the utilities with early adopters saying these costs are also dramatically down.
Solar refrigeration technology operates by harvesting energy from UV rays which increases the efficiency in the central chiller mechanism which intern means far less compressors are needed to operate at anyone time. With comparisons being drawn between the potential of a conventional system and a solar refrigeration technology displaying quicker paybacks for a solar refrigeration system the potential for the technology being utilised globally looks promising.
4. Solar Roads
Seeming like one of the more far fetched ideas on this list solar roads are currently under development in the USA with innovation and scope for this technology substantial. Early stage testing have been very encouraging with the long term goal of putting smart highways into production not a distant reality. While out of the technology on this list solar roadways at this point has received the least amount of investment from conventional sources. Thus far it continuing growth has been down to the intense determination from Julie and Scott Brusaw the developers of the technology and also from kick-starter like appeals on sites such Indiegogo. As such this innovation which from the outset may have seemed to offer the least potential for growth could now in reality offer the greatest degree of long term scope.
A solar roadway functions by having solar cells embedded in the road self, the technology combines a transparent driving surface with underlying solar cells, electronics and sensors to act as a solar array with programmable capability. Further to the ability to drive on the surface the ‘Solar Roadways’ company has additional plans for the technology to offer car charging, the sale of generated electricity and to turn the roadways in to a smart system with led lighting integrated.
While some of these offshoot aspirations may seem far fetched the idea of a solar power road itself can seem over ambitious, however the project is in advanced stages and has been classified the best performing crowd funding project on Indiegogo as such public appetite does exist for this form of technology. With U.S. authorities looking to grant early stage tests for the technology the future is looking very encouraging for the Solar Roadways company. While the company itself has admitted previously that the technology has flaws in relation to weather conditions there have been continued advances to overcome these obstacles. One of the future key stumbling blocks is likely to be the maintenance costs of such road based solar systems. Thus the economic viability of small scale generation let alone large scale adoption is the first concern, but one thing that can’t be questioned is the appetite for the company to get this renewable solar technology into the mainstream.
5.Commercial Solar Windows
Now while we briefly touched on this product at the start of this piece this was focusing more on the domestic market, the commercial solar glass industry has also been making great strides in the last few years. Once again as was highlighted with the Kyroeca mobile phone instance it is the utilisation of transparent solar cells which has been at the forefront of this technology and its ability to be integrated with glazed units. This has led to very encouraging early generation figures within this emerging market for the solar PV industry. With the average industry standard approximately 14% efficiency output solar windows have produced figures above this with reports of figures of approximately 15% across the research.
The integrated PV building market is minuscule in comparison to the domestic and commercial markets respectively meaning the scope of this sector is vast, especially when you consider that the vast majority of commercial systems you come across are located either on ‘A’ Frames or distributed across vast commercial roofs. What this technology will enable is the ability for large scale inner city adoption from tower blocks and sky scrapers etc; this area had previously suffered from a lack of tangible UV ray harvesting space.
The adoption of solar into glass is nothing new with solar film previously being utilize by numerous commercial premises, however the drawback for this was that the windows would actually be obscured by the film, this was typically of a black colour which did little to add to the appeal of the premises. However given the vast research and development that has been undertaken globally regarding this technology there have been a number of substantial advances within the sector. Notably MIT and UCLA now have technology that is in early stage release and with scope for the technology vast this truly could be the dawn of a new era of large scale solar adoption:
– MIT transparent solar cells: the Ubiquitous Energy organisation was founded at the institute and quickly set about changing the way a cell harvests the UV rays. Their technology absorbs the solar spectrum differently by only focusing on the solar spectrum essential to energy generation rather than shrinking the overall components of the spectrum. As such it absorbs the tangible element and allows the remaining visible light to pass through the glass. Now the serious technology begins when you start to discuss the transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC) pertaining to how the system actually provides the transparent effect, further details on this can be found here.
– UCLA New Polymer Solar Cells: while the MIT version operates within glass the UCLA version harvests UV rays through a plastic window. While the previously mentioned version may allow for a greater transparency the UCLA technology still allows over 70% percent of natural light to flow through their units. This technology has allowed the solar cells to act as add-on components to the window, thus effectively turning them into smart windows. It is the ability of the technology to incorporate light sensitive polymers with a silver nanowire film that has allowed the polymer cells within the unit to absorb more infrared light while allowing more visible light to pass through, thus meaning the inhabitants of the premises would be able to function with practically near daylight without being shrouded in darkness. The portable nature and low cost high capacity production of the units make them a true alternative to conventional system.
Some previous related articles of interest:
How the UK is increasing it’s C02 savings
What Scotland is now saving through long term savings
The impact of decreasing oile prices on the renewable industry