Not only is solar energy the powerhouse mother of all other energy sources, its potential is endless. This means that even when other sources run dry, the future will be solar powered.
And of course researchers already know this and have been hard at work cooking up some new solar technologies that will make our future shine!
Hold on tight because we’re about to reveal a few of the most impressive ones.
How will solar energy shape the products of the future?
1. Solar Building Blocks
Sure you can add solar panels to your roof (which happen to be a great investment, by the way), but what about if you already had solar panels built right into the structure of your house?
This might be a possibility in the future with something researchers are working on called Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics (BIPV). That’s right, the houses of the future could have solar energy built right into them.
Even though this might be pretty far from becoming a reality, there are a few ways that they’re trying to come up with viable products that can be incorporated into buildings.
An example of this is something called solar windows, embedded with ‘quantum dots’ that capture the incoming sunlight to use to generate power. That’s right quantum dots, like something right out of a science fiction novel. The future is now!
2. This Season’s Fashion Trend: Solar
Actually, solar has been used for fashion since 2014, but never discreetly. It’s pretty difficult to add silicon solar panels to clothing without looking like a robot.
However what it does make sense for is fabric products that were designed to be in the sun all day. In fact, there have already been some advancements in this area.
Solar harvesting has been incorporated into canopies, tents, charging stations, awnings, carports, and curtains. A company named Pvillion is leading the charge in this area, and they have some pretty interesting projects out there. Want to get your neighbors talking by installing new solar panels? Oh and don’t forget to add them to your handbag as well.
Image source: Pvillion
So what about something that’s a little more… discreet? Research published in 2019 shows the introduction of a novel solar harvesting fabric that looks and feels like a normal textile! They claim it’s soft, three dimensionally conformable, breathable, moisture absorbing, and… machine washable!
This fabric is created by weaving together solar-E-yarns which are miniature solar cell embedded textile yarns. Even though you’re not carrying around the power of a home solar panel, this fabric made into a shirt could produce enough power to charge a cell phone battery!
3. Paint with the Power of the Sun
What if the next time you gave your house a new coat of paint you were also adding billions of solar panels?
That’s the idea behind solar paint that would harvest the sun’s energy with billions of light sensitive material suspended in it. Imagine getting electricity from any surface you paint!
Where can I get it? Unfortunately, the people behind this idea say it’s still a little bit more than a concept and a little bit less than a consumer-level product. More to look forward to in the future!
4. Level Up with Solar Skins
Interested in solar panels but worried about affecting the aesthetic? Solar skins can help with that.
Never fear- solar skins are here to help. That’s right, a solar skin would change the look of your solar panels to whatever you decide. Camouflage them with your roof, make them stand out, create a banner for your favorite team, or make some extra cash with an advertisement.
This new technology was created in an MIT laboratory and is ready for the public.
What are the emerging technologies that will make solar energy more efficient?
5. Tracking the Sun
One of the great things about solar panels is that they have no moving parts. However, one of the disadvantages of solar panels is that they are static. Which means that when the sun moves around your house, so does your potential of producing solar power. But what if the solar panels could move with the sun? That’s exactly the thought process behind solar PV trackers.
They would track the sun as it moved around your house. How practical is this for installing onto your house? Not quite so much yet, and this technology would most likely be incorporated into larger scale systems first.
Plus, solar panels with no moving parts (as they are now) makes maintenance a breeze.
6. Where to Put All That Power
On super sunny days, your solar panels may collect way more energy than you can use in one day. So what about storing that excess energy you harvested?
Recently scientists discovered a molecule that stores solar energy for up to 18 years! They are hoping to use its stored energy to create heat, possibly even to heat an entire house. However, lots more research needs to be done before this is a viable option in the market.
So until then, we’ve got you covered with a Tesla battery storage system.
7. Exciting Pieces of Light
A photon-bound exciton may sound like a silly word, but it actually may be the future of solar energy technology.
Particles of light are called photons, and thanks to new advancements in the research of these light particles, the future of solar energy is boundless.
Some of the newest research shows the potential for new configurations of molecules. Which basically just means that all sorts of new materials and devices could be made using light particles.
The researchers had this to say about what this means for the future:
“We demonstrated how to use light as a sort of subatomic ziptie, binding together electrons to create novel atom-like objects. Doing so we broadened the catalogue of materials available to design photonic devices. I look forward to see how the many colleagues working in photonics will exploit this extra leeway to engineer novel amazing devices.”
8. Magnifying the Sun’s Power
We don’t capture all of the sun’s potential energy, so everyone’s trying to get more out of the energy that we do collect.
Concentrated solar power or just CSP is exactly what it sounds like: concentrating solar power to make it more efficient and powerful. The idea is similar to a massive magnifying glass, using mirrors or lenses to concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a receiver.
A pretty cool visual example of this is the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada.
That’s great, but where do we put all those solar panels?
9. What Kind of Crop is That?
Old McDonald had a farm, and on that farm he had… solar panels? That’s right. One solution of where to put large amounts of solar panels researchers are looking into is on existing farmland.
Agrivoltaics is the science of sharing solar resources on farmland. Because where is some of the best open land available for this? That’s right, farmland.
However, we don’t want to turn all our important food-producing land into solar energy farms. So researchers came up with an ingenious idea of solar sharing on farmland.
And guess what? It turned out to be mutually beneficial. Not only were they able to gather sunshine from the panels, but the crops actually thrived with their new solar panel roommates.
10. Float On
Lots of solar panels? Lots of open space on bodies of water? Sounds like a perfect fit.
So another potential solution for where to put all those solar panels would be to float them on bodies of water. Not only does it solve the land problem but it also keeps the solar panels cool so that they’re even more efficient.
This is called floatovoltaics and if we used just one-fourth of the nation’s man made reservoirs we would be able to generate about 10 percent of U.S. energy needs. That’s pretty impressive.
floating solar panels and cell platform shot by a drone
11. Send Them to Space
Harnessing the full power of the sun is difficult with all the obstacles we have on earth, but what if we were able to collect the energy of the sun from space?
That is exactly what researchers have been attempting to do, in fact, the first thought of this dates back to 1941 from a concept in a science fiction novel!
There wasn’t a lot of advancement on the idea of space-based solar power until the 21st century, but the idea has exploded in the last 20 years. So much so that the first test satellite to harness this power was launched in May 2020.
12. Solar panel traffic noise barriers
Solar energy plus less traffic noise? Sounds great. And that’s exactly the idea behind solar panel traffic noise barriers (PVNB) that are starting to gain traction around the world.
This solar technology was first installed in Switzerland in 1989 and the idea has since spread to 14 other countries including Germany which is home to the largest solar barrier. Although these barriers produce much less energy than solar farms, an advantage is the use of current highways.
Although the first highway PVNB is yet to be constructed domestically, at least two State Departments of Transportation are currently working with partners to pursue PVNB pilots in the United States. You hear that traffic? Neither do I.
The Future of Solar Energy is Looking Bright
So there you go, 12 pretty exciting reasons to keep your eye on the future of solar energy. Which one are you most excited about? Let us know on Twitter.