These innovative developments in solar technology are further advancing this increasingly important industry.
Solar energy is having its moment in the sun. In the United States, historically one of the world’s top consumers of fossil fuels, more people are now working in solar energy than in oil and natural gas extraction combined. Worldwide, the number of people working in renewable energy grew five percent in 2015. And the green energy boom isn’t projected to end anytime soon: by 2030, the number of clean energy jobs worldwide is expected to triple to 24 million.
Solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy sector in the world, and as solar technology advances, it could grab an even larger portion of the green energy market share. Here’s a look at the exciting innovations in solar tech that could further change the world.
Charging your phone with the sun
What if a piece of plastic placed on the back of your mobile phone would allow the sun to charge it? Through a compound called perovskite, Warsaw-based Saule Technologies has made that possible. Saule has pioneered an innovative method for laser printing perovskite onto a plastic backing, creating a small, flexible solar cell that can be used to charge mobile devices. Saule debuted the charging module at a solar energy conference in Barcelona earlier this year.
Many of the exciting developments in solar technology center around perovskites, which may one day replace silicon on solar cells. In the lab, perovskite cells have been able to harness about 20 percent of the light energy that it comes into contact with, which is about the same amount as silicon cells. The difference, however, is that perovskite cells can be created at just a fraction of the cost. They’re also lightweight, flexible and, as Saule has proven, easy to produce, which means it's another huge step towards making efficient, stable and accessible solar energy mass-market.
In the 1970s, scientists began testing a new illuminated organic dye to see if it could effectively capture the sun’s energy. Though the dye did its job, the technology has only been applied sporadically because these dye-sensitized solar cells are brightly colored, which is not ideal for people’s homes and offices.
While some enterprising architects have managed to incorporate the colorful look into buildings, a team from Michigan State University has developed a way to make the technology more accessible by creating the first completely clear solar panels.
Dr. Richard Lunt developed a transparent form of the dye that can be applied to translucent plastic or glass panels. The substance collects energy by absorbing visible light, and then it radiates that energy from the center of the panels to their edges, which are fitted with thin strips of solar cells that convert the energy to electricity.
According to Dr. Lunt, these panels could help a building generate up to 50 percent of its needed electricity if they were installed in place of windows. The biggest advantage: They can be fitted into existing buildings, which means that major cities—particularly those with lots of glass skyscrapers— could become invisible solar energy farms.
Though these panels aren’t ready for the commercial market yet, Dr. Lunt told CBS Innovation Nation that when they are, the applications could be endless.
Solar Power, rain or shine
Solar technology clearly has a lot of advantages, but it does face at least one major obstacle. What if it’s not sunny? A team of researchers from the Ocean University of China, led by Qunwei Tang, is aiming to solve that problem by developing the world’s first all-weather solar panel, and they’ve already seen some impressive returns.
For today’s solar cells, rain isn’t such a bad thing because it cleans them off and helps them run more efficiently. Tang and his team, however, believe it’s possible to extract energy from raindrops through a substance called graphene.
In their experiments, they applied a sheet of graphene to an inexpensive dye-sensitized solar cell. The cell was able to function regularly when it was exposed to sunlight, but it was also able to act as a sort of energy storage system when it was raining. Because raindrops contain many elements and compounds, such as sodium, calcium and ammonium, they can attach themselves to the electrons in the graphene, which results in an electric current.
Tang and his team have been able to harness about 6 percent of the energy generated by that current, but they’re optimistic that they can increase the efficiency on their panels. Tang’s research is still in its early stages, but he published his findings to-date in the journal Angewandte Chemie in March.
Among this year’s 27 Venture finalists there are some exciting startups using solar energy in innovative ways. Learn more about them here.
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