What’s the Latest Solar Panel Technology?
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Some people think that solar technology is at a dead end. They say that there’s no way forward and that we just have to worry about improving installation and making the paperwork more streamlined. However, there are still advances in solar panel technology coming down the pipeline, many of which could be held in the palm of your hand. That’s just one of the many reasons the future of solar is looking bright. We’ll cover a few of them here and see how they may affect the industry going forward. For more general information about less cutting edge solar panel technologies that are more market-available than the items listed in this post, visit our solar panel types and Purposes post.
Perovskite and Solar
Perovskite is an interesting material. First discovered by a German in the Russian Ural Mountains in 1839 and named after a Russian scientist, the material was largely ignored until the 20th century. Study into perovskite began in the early to mid 20th century, where it’s strange crystal structure was the topic of much scientific interest. Eventually, scientists learned that multiple minerals can exhibit perovskite structure, which is where things get interesting.
In Chemistry notation, perovskite is generally written as ABX3 where A and B are two different cations and X is an anion. These perovskite structures can be constructed from many different substances. The most common material used to construct them for solar cells is methylammonium lead halide (CH3NH3PbX3).
What matters is that the base material for these solar panels is not silicon, like most solar panels on the market today — it’s usually lead or tin. The structure of these solar cells make them particularly efficient for harvesting solar energy. The max efficiency of purely perovskite cells is 25.5 percent, nearly three percent higher than the best solar panels available today.
However, what makes these structures even better is that they can be layered onto a silicon panel. When perovskite and silicon-PV panels are layered like this, they’ve been recorded reaching a whopping 29.15 percent efficiency. That’s far better than a regular silicon panel. Some even speculate that these types of layered panels could be commercially viable at 40 percent efficiency by the 2030s.
An even more interesting factor in perovskite solar cells is that they can be printed. While they aren’t incredibly efficient yet, currently capping out at around 12 percent efficiency, they provide a number of potential applications. These range from better solar panels to more aesthetically pleasing installations.
Perovskite panels can be printed on top of silicon-PV panels, making the dual-structure solar panels easier to manufacture. This could help drive down costs of these types of solar panels, making them even easier to install, which could have a resounding effect on the solar industry.
Perovskite as Wearable Solar Technology
Integrating electronics into clothing has been an interest of the fashion industry for decades now. However, they continuously run into the same problem — batteries. These electronics won’t stay charged forever, and adding battery banks significantly increases the size and weight of clothing.
However, perovskite once again offers a solution. Printed perovskite cells are thin and flexible. They pay for it in efficiency, but they have advantages in flexibility — both literal and figurative. In this case, the flexibility of contouring to the shape and fit of clothing. One potential application of printed perovskite cells is printing them onto clothing, which could then power simple electronics. A shirt with a clock or a built-in calculator, perhaps even a GPS signal.
Additionally, this printing could also apply to vehicles. These cells could be placed directly onto a car, reducing or eliminating the need for a battery.
Handheld Solar Panels
Akin to wearable solar and, in some people’s books a technology interchangeable with wearable solar is handheld solar panels. While these modules have less applicability to the benefits of solar than other forms of technology in this post, we believe harnessing the power of the sun in your hand is pretty ideal, warranting an honorable mention.
Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPVs)
One of the other major advances in solar technology are BIPVs (building integrated photovoltaics). These are solar cells that are, as the name suggests, built directly into a structure during the construction process. Note that they can be added afterwards, but it’s a difficult, expensive and tedious process. It’s much easier to integrate BIPVs while the building is unfinished and still in its construction stages.
Often in the roof, these built-in solar cells then provide a continuous power source. Most BIPVs are solar panels, sometimes covered by a glass pane to provide additional protection. Solar shingles are being produced by some companies, but the cost is prohibitive when you take their efficiency into account. With that in mind, we at Go Solar Group recommend against solar shingles, unless you have thousands of dollars burning a hole in your pocket.
Additionally, if combined with some form of battery backup, these buildings would then become de facto energy-independent, needing no connection to the grid whatsoever. With the improving technology and dropping prices of battery backups, such as the Tesla Powerwall 2, the possibility of off-grid homes and businesses increases. Indeed, many solar experts are talking about the need to make advances in solar storage to keep up with more efficient panels.
Solar Windows: an Insulating Medium for the Sun
Another possible avenue to explore for BIPVs is windows integrated with solar technology. Once again we must turn to our old friend, printed perovskite. These cells can be printed in a semi-transparent fashion and layered onto windows. These windows, when combined with a few other factors, can then be turned into transparent solar panels. These windows can even be darkened or lightened, so in summer they block that blazing summer heat from shining through your windows and in winter they let in the maximum amount of heat possible.
Bifacial Solar Panels
The final latest advancement in technology worth mentioning is bifacial solar panels. Most panel installations have a single side — that faces the sun. Panels are often roof-mounted in such a way that no sunlight reaches the backside of the panels. However, some panels are changing that.
Bifacial solar panels can harvest from both sides of the installation. Bifacial panels are currently a minority of solar installations, but that could change. There have been reports of bifacial solar installations with an 11 percent increase in efficiency over regular silicon-PV systems. This could be a potential stopgap measure as we develop different PV construction methods. Indeed, some analysts predict that bifacial solar installations could grow tenfold over the next few years.