Whether Mirrors, Pods or Printed, Solar Innovations Are Just Beginning

Imagine the innovations we will see when the world REALLY gets behind solar. Here are a few underway.  

Huge Solar Mirrors

Sweden-based Ripasso Energy already has 3 gigawatts of manufacturing capacity and is testing its solar concentrating mirrors in South Africa’s Kalahari desert. Huge 100 square meter dishes rotate automatically, accurately following the sun. They concentrate the sun on a small point in the center, which drives a zero-emissions Stirling Engine, reports The Guardian. 

They convert 32% of the sun’s energy into electricity, much more than the 21% by the most efficient solar panels. Yet, they take up much less land than other concentrating solutions and require no water at all. 

Solar Ripasso

One mirror generates 80 megawatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power 24 average UK homes, according to tests by IT Power. 

The challenge, of course, is to get costs down and to get enough financing, and the mirrors can only be used in areas where there is strong sunshine.

Solar With a Pod

ECO-GEN claims its modular solar system brings the costs way down to generate clean electricity. All you need is 4-8 solar panels and its 8-foot long by 6-feet wide box – the JouleBoxTM Hybrid Generator. 

Solar EcoGen

Each modular pod produces 60 kilowatts of continuous energy a year, rain or shine, by tethering the solar panels to an integrated turbine generator backup system. The boxes can be stacked and expanded to 50 megawatts (MW).

To generate 20 MW takes up less than 55,000 square feet, in contrast to a solar farm which would cover over 600 acres.

It plans to make them for homeowners, but is starting with commercial applications.

Printed Solar

Organic solar cells have been under development for years – flexible, cheap, portable printed solar cells – and the first ones are close to commercialization.

After printing them, larger ones can be attached to windows to produce electricity and small ones can be used to charge smartphones and laptop computers, for example. 

Solar Organic Printed Cell

A fine layer of solar semiconductor "ink" is printed onto plastic or steel to capture sunlight. Right now, they are only 10% as efficient as solar panels, but they are also a lot smaller!

Ink and plastic hardly cost anything, and silicon gets cheaper all the time. Such cheap solar cells could end up in all sorts of applications – and they work well even when it’s cloudy.

Australia’s Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium has a goal to develop organic solar PV cells that can be printed commercially and get 10% efficiency for 10 years – the 10plus10 challenge.

"Eventually we see these being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers. By printing directly to materials like steel, we’ll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials, David Jones, who coordinates the Consortium, told Phys.org. They could even be attached to solar panels to boost their power.

Other solar technologies we’ve written about are Solar Windows, Spray-On Solar and solar panels that dissolve in water at the end of their life. 

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