Advances in solar technology

Millie HennickAugust 8, 20184890

Advances in solar technology

It is not surprising that solar technologies have evolved considerably since they first made their debut in the 1960s. Previously solar photovoltaics (PV) were seen as the wave of the future. Currently, technological breakthroughs have placed the industry in position for substantial growth. A series of exciting new inventions in solar PV technology also promises to contribute to solar’s rise.

Advances in Solar Cell Technology

Researchers have been looking for ways to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar cells. A solar PV array is comprised of hundreds, sometimes thousands of solar cells, that convert radiant sunlight into electrical energy. The average solar cell is approximately 15% efficient, which means nearly 85% of the sunlight that hits them fails to get converted into electricity. Therefore, scientists have been experimenting with new technologies to increase this light capture and conversion.

Light-Sensitive Nanoparticles

A group of scientists at the University of Toronto has discovered a new type of light-sensitive nanoparticle called colloidal quantum dots, that researchers believe will offer a less expensive and more flexible material for solar cells. Specifically, the new materials use n-type and p-type semiconductors - but ones that can actually function outside. This is a unique discovery since previous designs weren't capable of functioning outdoors and were not practical applications for the solar grid. University of Toronto researchers discovered that n-type materials bind to oxygen - the new colloidal quantum dots don't bind to air and therefore can maintain their stability outdoors. This helps boost radiant light absorption. Panels using this new technology were discovered to be up to eight percent more efficient at converting sunlight.

Gallium Arsenide

 Researchers at Imperial College University in London have discovered a new material - gallium arsenide - that could make solar PV systems 33 percent more efficient than existing products. The solar cells are called "triple junction cells" and they're more efficient because they can be chemically changed in a manner that optimizes sunlight absorption. The new model uses a sensor-driven window blind that can track sunlight along with "light-pipes" that guide the light into the system.

Advances in Energy Storage

Scientists are also looking at ways to store energy produced by solar PV systems. At the present time, electricity is mostly a "use it or lose it" type resource whereby once it's generated by a solar PV system the electricity goes to the grid and must be used immediately or vanish. Since the sunlight does not shine twenty-four hours a day,  most solar PV systems are only meeting electrical demands for a portion of the day. Consequently, a lot of electricity is lost. Several batteries on the market can store this energy, but even the most high-tech ones are fairly inefficient. These batteries are also expensive and have a fairly short shelf life, making them less attractive options for utility companies and consumers. This is why scientists are exploring different ways to store this electricity so that it can be used on demand.

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