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An Overview of the Latest Technologies in Solar Energy

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Solar power technologies have come a long way since their debut in the 1960s. There was a time when solar cells were considered something right out of a sci-fi novel, however today we have witnessed the rise of solar power as a global phenomenon overtaking even traditional energy options in terms of growth. Numerous technological breakthroughs have led to such a boom in the solar market. Mentioned below are some of the prime examples of technological developments which are taking pace in the field of solar energy today. 

1. Developments in Solar panels

Each PV panel consists of thousands of solar cells whose energy conversion efficiency only goes up to 15%. Hence researchers have long looked for means to increase the energy efficiency of such panels. Two main methods which have come about are-

  • Light-sensitive Nanoparticles- Recently developed at the University of Toronto, special nano-particles called “Quantum Dots” are slowly giving rise to inexpensive and more efficient materials. By using semiconductors they were able to design panels that survived the outdoors.
  • Gallium Arsenide- This material, developed in the Imperial College London, has the potential to maximize the energy conversion efficiency three-folds. Solar cells made from Gallium Arsenide are called “Triple Junction Cells”

2. Developments in energy storage methods

Currently there are no efficient methods of storing electricity. Managing power has only two options- either to use it or lose it. As, sunlight is only available for a limited period of time, research is being conducted to develop novel energy storage units. Some of the key developments are-

  • Molten Salt storage-Novatec Solar recently released a new technology based on inorganic salts. The salts are used to transfer energy produced by PV panels and are transferred using a new kind of fluid rather than oils. Such solar units can operate in temperatures up to 500 degree Celsius offering extremely high energy output.
  • Battery equipped solar panels- The Ohio State University came up with a version of battery mounted solar panels that boasts of being significantly cheaper and about 25% more efficient than anything available. Rechargeable batteries are mounted on the panel itself thus combining two typically distinct systems. Such an integration is expected to lower costs by 20%.

3. New Panel manufacturing technologies

The manufacturing processes involved in the making of PV panels are cost-intensive. The material used in making such panels, high-grade silicon doesn’t come cheap. This has forced researchers to look for newer manufacturing materials like cadmium telluride. Cadmium telluride is going to make the panels of tomorrow cheaper, flexible and cost-effective. Cadmium telluride uses cadmium chloride during manufacturing process which is extremely unstable. Researchers have now found that Magnesium chloride works just as well. Magnesium Chloride is easily available in seawater making it an abundant resource. Magnesium chloride is not only non-toxic but an extremely stable salt. Using Magnesium Chloride instead of cadmium chloride is supposed to increase the efficiency of the panel from 2 to over 15%.

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