Exciting Solar Panel Innovations

Before talking about exciting solar panel innovations, it is first necessary to understand the basics of solar energy production.  You need to be aware of how photovoltaic panels, the cornerstone of solar energy production, generate power in order to appreciate any of the innovations highlighted here.

That is because photovoltaic panels are the primary means used by residences and corporations to power their homes and businesses with solar energy.  Wikipedia defines photovoltaics as the “best-known method of generating electric power using solar cells to convert light energy from the sun into a flow of electrons.” The photovoltaic effect refers to “the process by which photons of light excite electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current.”  A solar panel works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity.

Solar panels are comprised of many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells. Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material, usually silicon — the same stuff used in microelectronics. A couple of other components of the cell turn these liberated electrons into usable power. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity. These photovoltaic cells work in concert to create a photovoltaic system to power your home or business.  Not too complicated, right?

Solar Skin Technology

One problem for the solar industry is the fact that a high percentage of homeowners think that these photovoltaic panels installed on their roof are less than aesthetically pleasing.  In fact, many think the panels are downright  ugly.  To address this problem, Sistine Solar, a Boston-based MIT startup, is creating solar panels that have a customized look. Designers have created a “solar skin” product that matches the appearance of the existing roof without interfering with the panel’s efficiency.  That is a huge innovation.

According to its website, the goal of the company: to re-brand solar panels as a luxury product that improves the aesthetic of a house while also generating major energy savings.  “We strongly believe in the transformative power of design,” said Ido Salama, co-founder and head of sales for Sistine Solar. “The moment we admit that design matters is the moment that clean energy can go from producing 1% of our energy needs to 100% in our lifetime.”  Sistine Solar’s skin product hit the U.S. market in 2017 and is helping to rebrand solar panels as a luxury product, not just a home efficiency upgrade.  Check out their website to explore the bronze, silver and gold solar panel packages with their associated costs and selections.

And, on October 28, 2017, Tesla also unveiled its new solar roof tiles.  The appearance of the tiles, which come in Textured Glass, Slate Glass, Tuscan Glass and Smooth Glass, targets those at the top end of the solar market, those with the disposable income available to ensure their home(s) set the trend in “fashion solar.”

Solar Powered Highways

Working on the aesthetics of solar panels is only one of many exciting solar panel innovations.  This past summer paved the way for tests of another exciting new PV technology – solar powered roads. The sidewalks along one stretch of Route 66, America’s historic interstate highway, were chosen as the testing location for solar-powered pavement technology developed by a company called Solar Roadway.

Their plan to replace America’s roads with solar panels may seem far-fetched, but the company is getting a public test on a stretch of solar sidewalk to be installed on Route 66. According to Missouri’s News TribuneSolar Roadway’s hexagonal, LED-embedded solar panels will be used to generate electricity for the Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway, as well as possibly fund future pilots.

The company maintains that using embedding solar panels into roadways can not only generate clean energy to light roads at night using LED bulbs but the panels have the thermal heating capacity to melt snow during winter weather. The next stop following sidewalk tests is to install these roadways on designated segments of Route 66.

“Solar roadways can hopefully create new revenue streams,” Tom Blair, an engineer for Missouri’s Department of Transportation (MoDOT), told the Tribune. “If their version of the future is realistic, roadways can begin paying for themselves.” The solar panels will be tested first on a pavement leading to the rest stop’s entrance, with plans to then expand onto the parking lot.

 Wearable solar

Noon Solar was a company that incorporated flexible thin solar panels into handbags and totes to charge small electronics. Founded in 2003 by textile designers, Marianne Fairbanks and Jane Palmer, the company manufactured bags until 2010 that integrated flexible thin film panels into bags to capture solar energy in a small battery pack. Their goal was to provide consumers a way to disconnect from conventional power sources but stay connected.  Fairbanks and chemist, Trisha Andrew, have now made news through their innovations in solar textiles: tiny solar panels that can now be stitched into the fabric of clothing.  The implications are boundless – think of using the solar panel embedded fabric for window curtains or heated car seats.  Exciting solar panel innovations such as this may someday allow you to wear your power source 24/7.

Ground Mounted Solar

As more and more homeowners consider solar, those who have roofs that are less than ideal for panels, have a  new option to consider:  ground mounted solar

Tracking mount technology allows solar panels to maximize electricity production by following the sun as it moves across the sky. The systems tilt and shift the angle of their solar panel array throughout the day to maximize exposure to the sun. GTM Research recently unveiled a report that shows a major upward trend in the popularity of tracking systems. GTM projects a 254 percent year-over-year increase for the PV tracking market this year and stated that by 2021, almost half of all ground mount arrays will include solar tracking capability.

These are just some of the exciting solar panel innovations being developed in the exciting field of solar energy.  To find out more, or to explore solar energy options for your home or business here in New York, contact one of our solar experts at Venture Home Solar. Call us today at  800-203-4158 to find out more about the unlimited potential of solar energy!  We are the local experts who know the “ins and outs” of our state policies here in New York, including the tax incentives and rebates that can make a solar installation on your home or business even more cost effective. Call Venture Home Solar today (800-203-4158) to get started!