Solar energy has made quite a jump in popularity over the last 40 years, but surprisingly only accounts for roughly 1.6% of the total electricity used across the United States. However, with the technological advancements made in 2021, that number may be much higher in the not-so-distant future.
Building Integrated Photovoltaics
The issue with many building owners is that they don’t like the look of solar panels. Thankfully, there is now a versatile product on the market now perfect for buildings with a lot of architectural features such as terraces and canopies, and it’s called PV glass.
PV glass is manufactured from transparent photovoltaic cells. It is toughened and lets daylight enter a building while producing energy. Incorporating solar power into architecture has many advantages, including the unlimited source of energy, decreased maintenance costs, thermal optimization, and improved sound insulation.
Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Another option is to use a natural resource that has some of the largest available surface areas around-lakes and reservoirs. By having floating PV solar panels (floatovoltaics), you can still produce massive amounts of energy without taking up valuable land or real estate.
Regular PV solar panels generally use an air-cooling system to prevent them from overheating, but in the floating version-water as found to increase electricity production by 10%! This is because of the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels. The cost of maintaining the panels on a floating system is also less expensive, because the water helps the panels remain dirt-free. An added bonus is that the water management of the body of water itself becomes more cost-effective, as the shade caused by the panels significantly reduces algae forming, and the panels covering surface area help reduce evaporation.
Thin-Film Solar Cells
Research has shown that solar cells are more effective when layered; particularly if they are in layers up to four. However, this would be too inconvenient and expensive for commercial use, which is where solar fabric comes in.
Solar fabric is flexible, and can be used on circular structures, awnings over doorways, tents, and window shades. The efficiency of solar fabric is approximately 13%; however, solar fabric has been proven to be more effective in low light.
Solar powered LED lighting is transforming streets and pathways in the US. There is no need to use traditional trench and cable installations with off-grid lighting, which saves money. The latest technology in LED solar-powered lighting has improved battery function and electronics.
Backup systems keep lighting functional for several days. Efficiency is greatly improved through controllable electronics. Lighting can be customized to suit any location or local weather patterns. Battery powered LED solar lighting is sustainable and ecological.
Photovoltaic Noise Barriers
Noise barriers serve a purpose and their function is to reduce noise pollution by diverting sound waves back to where they came from. Noise barriers also contribute to the reduction of air pollution by restricting the spread of harmful fumes. There are approximately 3,000 miles of noise barriers that line American highways!
While these barriers protect neighborhoods from excessive noise, they also provide useful space for solar energy production. An innovative development is to use double-sided solar cells that increase the chances of performing well in any position. To make noise barriers suitable for solar power, they need to be correctly aligned to make an efficient use of the sun. The tilt and orientation of the panels is less of an issue when used with double-sided solar cells. And with an east-west alignment, they have the best solar energy potential in their multi-function role.
And It’s Only Getting Better
Solar energy can easily provide substantial amounts of inexpensive, green electricity. Through new technology and continual improvement, solar photovoltaic cells are becoming even more versatile. New solar power technologies are demonstrating the versatility of this powerful energy source. Practical applications from architecture to street lighting are helping save energy and costs. As solar gains in popularity, it will also gain technologically. Solar is the future!