Solar energy today is the fastest growing form of energy in the world. Today solar panels can be commonly found on homes and businesses and in large-scale utility projects.
The cost of solar energy has fallen by 99 per cent over the last two decades, but the technology itself also continues to evolve and improve. Some of the continual innovations in solar energy that consumers can access today or that will be coming to market soon include:
Ultra-high-efficiency panels — Leading solar manufacturers are manufacturing and selling panels that have cell efficiencies of about 24 per cent. These are significantly more powerful and efficient than standard solar panels and can provide great benefits, including maximising power from limited space or using less of your roof area to produce energy.
Perovskite cells — The newest evolution in solar cell technology is called Perovskite cells. In simple terms, Perovskite cells are a thin-film solar solution that will be inexpensive to produce and offer high-power efficiency. They are viewed as the next evolution in pushing down the cost of solar energy, but their full commercialisation is still under way, with one of the main challenges being to increase their durability.
Solar skins — Solar skins, a type of cover that can wrap over a solar panel without affecting its production or efficiency, make the solar panels look like the roof of the building they are being installed on. These aesthetics upgrades allow homeowners the option of better hiding the look of the solar panels on their roofs.
Wearable solar — It has become increasingly common today to see wearable solar panels that can charge your electronic devices. The technology involves everything from solar watches and backpacks to shirts and luggage. If there’s a need for portable power, there’s a growing list of personal and wearable items that utilise interwoven solar panels to provide it on the go.
Solar hydropanels — Today you can create your own drinking water using nothing but solar energy and the humidity in the air via solar hydropanels. In addition to providing an eco-friendly way of producing pure drinking water, they eliminate the need to buy water in plastic bottles.
Solar batteries — Perhaps the most important current innovation in solar technology is the ability to store the solar energy for when you need it — at night for example. Battery systems are the biggest growth area in the renewable energy sector. Much like solar has done over the last two decades, energy storage is seeing a drop in costs and increase in quality by magnitudes of order every few years now.
James Whittaker is the founder of the GreenTech group of companies that provide renewable energy systems and design of eco-friendly, LEED-certified homes.