Solar power technology is moving forward by leaps and bounds, with some new advancements being built out into usable installations virtually every day. Design concepts once thought to be 'pie in the sky' ideas are being implemented, and making a simple solar panel array look like old-school technology.
While it may be some time before you see some of these solar technologies in use, chances are it will be sooner rather than later, so keep your eyes on these:
1. Water Cooled Solar Panels: The Pyron Solar Triad uses a specially designed, short focal-length, acrylic concentrating lens to reflect and refracts the light, effectively concentrating it to equal the power of 6,500 suns in a small pinpoint of light. A secondary optic captures this concentrated light and focuses it on a small PV cell. According to the company, the HE Optics System produces 800 times more electricity than a similarly-sized silicon solar cell.
2. Home Solar to Hydrogen Storage: An MIT professor, Daniel Nocera, formed a company this year to commercialize a new technology that can "split water" and store solar energy. The company's key objective now is to achieve a solar energy breakthrough by to making solar energy cheap and widespread.
"The idea is to use solar panels to power the electrolyzer to produce hydrogen which would be stored in tanks. When people need electricity, the stored hydrogen would put through a fuel cell."
3. Solar Roof Shingles, Printable and Paintable Solar Panels: If solar power was as easy to install as putting new shingles on your house, or painting your roof with a solar paint, it would lower the bar for home solar installation. The paintable solar technology is called silicon ink, and according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar cells using the technology have "demonstrated a record 18 percent conversion of efficiency." Solar shingles, by Dow Chemical, should be available in limited supply by mid 2010 and then readily available by 2011, says the company.
4. Large Thin Film Solar Panels: The SunFab™ system uses amorphous silicon based thin film technology to deliver the world's largest and most powerful thin film panels and combines low-cost materials with one of the industry's most advanced fabrication technologies.The company's thin film solar panels have a frameless design, eliminating two predominant field reliability challenges for thin film panels: water penetration and weakened structure integrity over time.
5. Organic Solar Concentrators: Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a sophisticated and affordable method to turn ordinary glass into a high-tech solar concentrator, using dye-coated glass to collect and channel light which is usually lost from the surface of the panels. This technology could allow buildings to use tinted windows to collect energy. Another company, GreenSun, has developed bright-colored panels which capture different parts of sun's spectrum, and don't need direct sunlight to work.
6. Space Based Solar: Japan is developing a giant space based solar power generator to transmit solar energy to earth from 36,000km above the earth within the next 30 years. The Japanese government is backing the $21 billion project, which will include a solar power space station with four square kilometers of solar panels, cranking out an estimated 1 gigawatt of electricity - enough for almost 300,000 homes in Tokyo.
7. Solar Roads: The Solar Roadways concept, would pave roads with glass panels to collect and distribute solar energy to light the road at night and heat it in winter, with enough electricity leftover to power homes and businesses. The founder, Scott Brusaw, estimates that each mile of solar panels could power 500 homes, and estimates that the cost of producing a single 12′ X 12′ Solar Roadway panel could reach about $5,000.
8. Concentrated Solar: Stirling Energy System's SunCatcher, consisting of a solar concentrator in a dish structure supporting an array of curved glass mirrors, may be deployed in Arizona soon, the first commercial-scale installation of the world's most efficient solar technology. The SunCatcher employs a system of mirrors attached to a parabolic dish to concentrate the sun's energy onto a high?efficiency Stirling Engine, with each dish generating up to 25,000 watts of power.
9. Nanotechnology Solar: Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario have grown light-absorbing nanowires made of high-performance photovoltaic materials on thin but highly durable carbon-nanotube fabric. They've also embedded the tiny particles in flexible polyester film which could lead to solar cells that are both flexible and cheaper than today's photovoltaics. In other nano-news, a team from the University of Southanpton's School of Physics and Astronomy has developed a new range of photovoltaic devices using a process found in vegetative methods of light harvesting (photosynthesis), to deliver unprecedented amounts of electrical current from light.
10. Integrated Grid Ready Solar: Andalay AC solar panels, built with Akeena Solar's proprietary technology, integrates the racking, wiring and electrical grounding components into the panels themselves. According to the company, this safeguards against breakdowns and boosts system reliability, delivering thousands of dollars in savings throughout its 30 year lifetime. The Andalay AC solar panels produce safe household AC power, and will enable a safer and easier installation process for solar installers and do-it-yourselfers by reducing the number of parts by 80% and eliminating complicated and potentially dangerous DC wiring. The Andalay AC solar panels were named as a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Product for 2009.
As a bonus solar technology to watch out for, CoolEarth's solar balloons are made with metallic plastic films, with half of the balloon being transparent, which lets the sunlight in to be concentrated on a small high-efficiency solar panel. The balloons are 8 feet across and suspended with a patented support system, based on the architectural principles of tensegrity. (stabilized by continuous tension or "tensional integrity" rather than by compression.) The resulting suspension system of posts and steel cables uses a minimum amount of material, has a small footprint, and causes the least disruption to the natural environment of any solar power plant.