Solar power was in a constant state of innovation in 2016, In the past year alone, there have been milestones in solar efficiency, solar energy storage, wearable solar technology and solar design tech. Read on to get the complete update on all the breakthroughs you should know about in the world of new solar panel technology.
There are two main types of solar technology: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar PV technology captures sunlight to generate electric power, and CSP harnesses the sun’s heat and uses it to generate thermal energy that powers heaters or turbines.
With these two forms of solar energy comes a wide range of opportunities for technical innovation. Here are some of the latest emerging solar panel technologies for 2017:
Solar skin design
One major barrier for the solar industry is the fact that a high percentage of homeowners consider solar panels to be an unsightly home addition. Luckily, one new venture has a solution. Sistine Solar, a Boston-based design firm, is making major strides with the concept of aesthetic enhancement that allow solar panels to have a customized look. The MIT startup has created a “solar skin” product that makes it possible for solar panels to match the appearance of a roof without interfering with panel efficiency or production. Sistine Solar’s skin product will help to rebrand solar panels as a luxury product, not just a home efficiency upgrade. Another notable brand are the tesla roof shingles.
For more visit www.sistinesolar.com
Solar Powered Roads
This past summer paved the way for tests of an exciting new PV technology – solar powered roads. These roadways are heralded for their ability to generate clean energy, but they also include LED bulbs that can light roads at night and have the thermal heating capacity to melt snow during winter weather. The sidewalks along Route 66, America’s historic interstate highway, were chosen as the testing location for solar-powered pavement tech.
Though wearable solar devices are nothing new (solar-powered watches and other gadgets have been on the market for several years), 2016 saw an innovation in solar textiles: tiny solar panels can now be stitched into the fabric of clothing. The wearable solar products of the past, like solar-powered watches, have typically been made with hard plastic material. This new textile concept makes it possible for solar to expand into home products like window curtains and dynamic consumer clean tech like heated car seats. This emerging solar technology is credited to textile designer Marianne Fairbanks and chemist Trisha Andrew.
Solar Batteries: Innovation in Solar Storage
The concepts of off-grid solar and solar plus storage have gained popularity and solar manufacturers have taken notice. The industry-famous Tesla Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium ion battery product launched in 2015, continues to lead the pack with regard to market share and brand recognition for solar batteries. Tesla offers two storage products, the Powerwall for residential use and the Powerpack for commercial use, and the clean auto behemoth is expected to launch its Powerwall 2.0 product in weeks to come. Solar storage is still a fairly expensive product in 2016, but a surge in demand from solar shoppers is expected to bring significantly more efficient and affordable batteries to market in 2017.
Solar Water Purifiers
Stanford University researchers collaborated with the Department of Energy this year to develop a new solar device that can purify water when exposed to sunlight. The minuscule tablet (roughly half the size of a postage stamp) is not the first solar device to filter water, but it has made major strides in efficiency compared to past inventions. Prior purifier designs needed to harness UV rays and required hours of sun exposure to fully purify water. By contrast, Stanford’s new product can access visible light and only requires a few minutes to produce reliable drinking water. As the technology behind solar purifiers continues to improve, expect these chiclet-sized devices to come to market with hikers and campers in mind as an ideal consumer audience.