5 Solar PV Technology Breakthroughs You Should Know

Five Solar Technology Breakthroughs You Should Know About

Among all renewables, solar still leads the pack and continues to push the switch to non-carbon-based fuel sources. But what makes solar energy so popular? 

Solar is easier to install, and solar PVs have become cheaper in the last decade. This makes them the most popular and affordable renewable energy resource. 

The good news is that there have been recent breakthroughs in the field of solar technology. These innovations signal the continuous advancement in developing solar as the top choice for renewable energy. Let us look at these updates and see if they will improve the market’s adoption of solar PV technologies. 

1. “Print-to-Order” Ultra-thin Organic Solar Panels 

A new type of solar panel has been developed and it’s organic, ultra-thin, and can be “print-to-order”. A team of scientists and researchers from the University of Surrey (United Kingdom) was able to develop a wafer-thin solar panel, made from organic materials, and can be printed on demand. These solar panels are capable of absorbing 25% more energy compared to their counterparts. Even when used indoors, it maintains its efficiency rate, making these solar cells ideal for smart personal devices. 

Although the technology itself is still in the developmental stages, Dr Florescu mentioned that these solar panels can be used for the following: 

  • Satellites 
  • Solar arrays for zero-energy buildings 
  • Smart wearables connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) 

Producing these organic solar panels costs only half, compared to silicon-based solar PV cells. In Europe, the demand for these “print-to-order” solar cells is picking up and is being utilised for mini solar harvesting modules and smart, wearable technologies.  

However, they are looking for partners to help them produce these commercially and improve their production techniques. 

2. Leveraging  Infra-red Technology for Solar Panels 

Solar panels are efficient in harvesting clean energy, but the technology has its limitations: overcast skies and nightfall can cause them to be ineffective. However, a team of researchers from the UNSW Sydney and ARC Centre found a way for solar PV cells to work even at night, thanks to infra-red technology. 

Borrowing the concept of night-vision goggles, they used a thermos-radiative diode to convert gathered infrared heat into electricity. Nicholas Ekins-Daukes, Exciton Science Associate Investigator and Team Leader, said, “The same principles apply to solar power – the sun provides the hot source and a relatively cool solar panel on the Earth’s surface provides a cold absorber. This allows electricity to be produced.” 

The team’s research is still in its preliminary stages, but the technology and the results are very promising. 

3. Perovskite Can Increase Solar Cell Utilisation by 30% 

Scientists have found a way to increase solar cell energy absorption by as much as 30%. The breakthrough was achieved when scientists combined an ultra-thin layer of Perovskite on top of solar cells to increase their absorption of blue light. Perovskite is a type of solar cell which includes a perovskite-structured compound, most commonly a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer. 

Blue light contains more energy compared to its red-light spectrum counterpart. Thanks to the new cell tandem, blue light is properly utilised, thus, increasing its absorption power.  Combining two different materials for solar PV technology could be the ultimate breakthrough for this type of technology. 

While promising breakthroughs have been made in terms of power conversion efficiency, current research is focused on fabrication techniques to overcome the disadvantages of instability and poor lifetime that threaten the commercial viability of this technology.

Perovskite Solar Cells
Image credit: Energy.gov

4. NREL Uses Inverted Metamorphic Multijunction (IMM) Cells 

The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) set a record for solar PV efficiency — they did it by achieving 39.5% solar cell efficiency without the need to expose these cells to a concentrated light. NREL used inverted metamorphic multijunction (IMM) cells to achieve this feat. They’re composed of three different materials (GaInP/GaAs/GaInAs), stacked on top of each other, making them more efficient in capturing energy from different light spectrums. 

Primarily developed for commercial space satellite use, IMM cells can be used for terrestrial use – especially for utility-scale solar farms. Harnessing this type of technology helps drive down operations and maintenance costs while boosting a solar array’s power production. 

5. Transparent Solar Technology – Utilising Windows to Harvest Energy 

Transparent solar was derived from photovoltaic glass, which is manufactured to give the glass various levels of transparency. Also known as solar glass, it served as a transparent solar collector which can be utilised in a PV cell.  

It’s one of the biggest technological innovations because transparent solar technology can replace traditional solar panels. Residential or commercial building windows can be transformed into “passive solar collectors” and eliminate our reliance on the main electricity grid.  

Image Credit: ARENA.gov.au

 

These breakthroughs are glimpses of the future of solar. Although these are still in their developmental stages, the advancement in solar technology is truly remarkable. However, to kickstart a solar revolution towards energy efficiency and sustainability, support from government leaders and the business sector is needed.

The article was published on October 11, 2022.

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