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5 new solar technologies to change the future of energy landscape
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5 new solar technologies to change the future of energy landscape

15 mins 11 May 2021
"Solar becomes the king of electricity", declared the International Energy Agency in its 2020 report. IEA experts expect the global solar energy generation to become 8-13 times bigger in the next 20 years than it is now. New solar panel technologies are only going to accelerate the rise of the solar industry. So what are those innovations? Let's take a look at the cutting-edge solar technologies 2021 that are going to shape our future.

Floating solar farms offer better efficiency without taking up the land

So called floatovoltaics are relatively old: first floating solar farms appeared in the end of the 2000s. Since then, the construction principles have been refined, and now this new solar panel technology is used with great success – so far mostly in Asian countries.

The main advantage of floating solar farms is that they can be installed on almost any water body.The cost of floating photovoltaic panels is comparable to a land installation of a similar size. What is more, the water underneath the PV modules cools them down, bringing greater efficiency to the whole system and minimizing energy waste. The performance of floating solar panels is usually 5-10% higher than the one of land installations.

China, India and Korea boast large-scale floating solar farms, but the biggest one is now being constructed in Singapore. It really makes sense for the country: it has so little space that the government takes every opportunity to use its water resources.

BIPV solar technology makes buildings self-sustaining

In the future, we won't install solar panels on the rooftops to power buildings – they will become energy-generating devices themselves. The building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) technology aims to use solar elements as construction parts that will become power suppliers for a future office or a house. All in all, the BIPV technology lets the owner save up on electric power costs and later on the cost of solar panel mounting systems.

It's not about replacing the walls and windows with panels and creating "working boxes", though. Solar elements are to be integrated naturally without affecting the way people work and live. For example, photovoltaic glass looks like a normal one, but at the same time it collects all the energy coming through it from the sun.

Although the BIPV technology dates back to the 1970s, it didn't break out until quite recently: solar elements have become more accessible, efficient and widespread. Following the trend, some office owners start to integrate photovoltaic elements into their already existing buildings. This is called building-applied photovoltaics. Making a building with the most powerful BIPV solar panel system even became a competition among entrepreneurs. Obviously, the greener your business is, the better its image. It appears that a shipyard in eastern China owned by Asia Clean Capital (ACC) holds the trophy with its 19MW installation.

Solar skins turn panels into advertising space

Solar skins are basically wraps for solar panels that let the module retain its efficiency and display anything on top of it. This novel RV technology allows you to conceal solar panels if you don't like the way they look on your roof or walls – just choose an appropriate custom image, like roof tiles or grass lawn.

The new technology is not only about aesthetics, but also about profit: businesses can turn their solar panel systems into advertising banners. It is possible to customise the skins so that they display, for example, a logo of the company or a new product on the market. What is more, solar skins give you an option to monitor the performance of your modules. The downside is the cost: for a solar thin-film skin, you'll have to pay 10% more on top of the price of a solar panel. However, the further solar skin technology develops, the more we can expect the price to drop.

Solar fabric can make your T-shirt charge your phone

Most of the latest solar innovations come from Asia. So it's no surprise that Japanese engineers are responsible for developing solar fabrics. Since we already integrate solar cells into buildings, why not to do the same with cloth? Solar fabric can be used to make clothes, tents, curtains: just as panels, it captures solar radiation and makes electricity out of it.

Possibilities for using solar fabric are endless. Solar filaments are woven into textiles, so you can easily fold them and wrap over anything. Imagine you have a smartphone cover made from solar fabric. Your smartphone then gets charged simply by lying on a table in the sunlight. In theory, you could simply wrap the roof of your home in solar fabric. The fabric would be producing solar power just like panels, but you wouldn't have to pay for installation. Of course, the power output of standard solar panels on rooftops is still higher than the one of solar fabric.

Solar noise barriers turn the highway roar into green energy

Solar noise barriers (PVNB) are already widespread in Europe and start to appear in the US as well. The idea is simple: noise barriers were constructed to protect people in towns and villages from the highway traffic noise. They offer large surface area and, to make use of it, engineers came with an idea of adding solar elements to them. The first PVNB appeared in 1989 in Switzerland, and now the highest count of highways with PVNBs belongs to Germany with record-breaking 18 barriers installed in 2017. In the USA, the construction of such barriers hasn't started until a few years ago, but now we expect to see them in every state.

The cost-effectiveness of PV noise barriers is questionable at the moment, say experts of the US Department of Transportation. It highly depends on the type of added solar elements, electricity prices in the area and governmental incentives concerning renewables. Germans, for example, don't even wash their noise barriers, because the rise in efficiency it would give is not economically justified. However, the efficiency of PV modules continues to grow while the prices are declining. This is what makes solar traffic noise barriers more and more appealing.
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Illustrations – Marina Fionova