Compared with some of the wonders of the digital age, the technology that makes solar power a viable energy source has actually been around for quite a while. After all, the photovoltaic effect was first discovered all the way back in 1839, and the first commercially available solar cells hit the market in 1955. And in the more-than half-century of time that we’ve had to get used to the idea that we could possible get the sun to foot our energy bills, the technology itself hasn’t actually changed that much…. Not until now.
As modern technologies are becoming smaller, faster, and less expensive to produce, so too are solar technologies profiting from modern innovation and advancements. Residential and commercial industries have seen an increase in the application of solar power. Even the army has started using amounts of solar power. Here are five new innovations that may make it possible for you to run your life all on the power of a sunbeam.
One of the major drawbacks of solar energy is that most solar cells just aren’t able to efficiently produce enough energy to be seen as cost-effective. Sure, some commercially available panels are able to convert upwards of 35% of incoming sunlight into electricity, but these tend to be made from expensive and difficult to maintain materials. However, new advancements with perovskites may change all of that. Using the same production methods as the least expensive silicon cells, perovskites are able to achieve 15% efficiency. This may not sound like a lot, but given that perovskites have only been around for a relatively short amount of time, and that their efficiency levels are expected to improve dramatically, they could potentially revolutionize the future of solar power. Several solar power companies like Vivint have started to emerge, offering this new technology to homeowners at a discounted price. These solar companies now rent solar power to homeowners at affordable prices, which has seen a spike in residential solar power panel installations.
At the same time, it has been shown that perovskite cells could be modified to absorb only specific wavelengths of light, which means that by using several layers of cells, each designed to absorb a specific wavelength, one could potentially increase efficiency dramatically. We are likely to see an increase in the efficiency of perovskite cells, which will likely continue to increase the sales for solar power.
2. Printed Solar Cells
What if every electronic device that you owned came with its own solar cell? We’re not talking about some clunky panel that would need to be set up in direct sunlight before you could get any useable juice; we’re referring to a paper-thin, durable cell that could be printed onto the device as easily as a decal in placed on a model airplane. MIT researchers have developed an inexpensive method that relies on special “inks” that can be printed directly onto most any material, effectively converting it into a functioning solar cell.
3. Nano-constructed battery molecule
Another MIT advancement that could change the future of solar power are special “battery” molecules. Using carbon nanotubes, researchers at MIT have developed a new molecule that can actually store solar energy almost indefinitely. That energy could be accessed and used at a later date, thus effectively turning these new molecules into microscopic batteries. Of course, the comparison isn’t totally accurate, because unlike conventional batteries, these molecules don’t contain dangerous chemicals, don’t degrade over time, and are cheap to produce.
4. Transparent cells
Imagine if the windows in your home or on your car could be used to generate power. That’s a concept that is currently being researched by the same people who have been making such amazing strides with perovskite. By using the material to create a thin solar-cell that allows light to pass through while still capturing enough energy to be considered efficient, one could potentially turn every glass window in the country into an energy-producing solar panel. Just imagine being able to contact a home automation company and having them drop by to to cover your windows in a transparent film that cuts down your energy bill.
5. Road surface cells
This idea has been getting tossed around for quite some time. Ostensibly, the plan revolves around replacing the asphalt of American roadways with durable solar cells, thus creating an intersecting web of energy-producing paths that could supply the country with as much power as it might need. Add to that the possibility of using some of the generated energy to create road surfaces that could be illuminated at night or heated to prevent snow accumulation in the winter, and you have a possibility that is definitely worth considering. Of course, implementing these new ideas could end up being quite costly, but when combined with some of these other innovations, we might find that solar energy is one venture that really pays for itself.
So, if you don’t believe that solar energy is the answer to the current energy crisis, just wait a few years. With all of the new advancements and technologies being developed, it won’t be long before we’re all letting the sunshine in.
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