newest developments to solar panels are really turning the solar industry
on its head. Silicone solar panels have been difficult and expensive
to manufacture, and increasing their efficiency was thought to be the
answer to their prohibitive high cost. There have been leaps and bounds
in their efficiency, only five years ago they could only convert about
5% of sunlight into electricity. Now that number has passed the 50%
efficiency mark, but the price has not dropped. Most people can only
afford solar panels with help from tax rebates and government stimulus,
or by leasing their roof to a solar panel installer and buying cheaper
electricity from them. Leasing roof tops is becoming popular with property
owners, but they are still paying another company for power. The answer
to our power needs isn’t necessarily efficiency. Incredibly cheap,
yet still effective, photovoltaic paint, and flexible printed panels
may be the answer.
Researchers at Swansea University in the UK, led by Dave Worsley, are
developing paint that when applied to a metal surface produces electricity.
Every surface of a building can be generating electricity without any
external hardware or expensive solar panels. They discovered the idea
almost accidentally while they were studying why paint breaks down in
order to create a more durable paint for steel surfaces. What they noticed
gave them an idea that could change the way we thing about generating
power. So far their paint is only about 5% efficient, but when you consider
that every surface, even areas without direct sunlight, can generate
electricity it is easy to see what a benefit that would be.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology has developed a similar paint
that is applied to flexible plastic sheets. They are using nanotechnology
to create a paint that creates a snake like structure for transmitting
electrons, when sunlight strikes the polymer backing it grabs onto the
suns photons and it releases electrons embedded in the paint. A New
Zealand scientist has developed an organic dye that mimics a plants
light harvesting pigment, chlorophyll. Its main component is titanium
dioxide which is non-toxic and is commonly found in paint. It is also
cheap and widely available. It can be incorporated into paint, printing
processes and even clothing. Imagine printing solar panels from you
inkjet printer at home, and plugging your cell phone into your jacket
to charge it.
Spinach could actually become quite essential to the solar industry.
MIT has developed a synthetic photovoltaic cell based skin whose main
component for generating electricity is a protein found in spinach.
Photosystem I is the name of the protein, and it has shown to have some
very favorable characteristic that can be applied to generating electricity
very cheaply and efficiently.
Collecting energy from the sun is proving to be the most efficient
way of meeting our energy needs. There are even ideas to convert our
existing asphalt infrastructure, all of our roads and parking lots,
into solar-thermal collectors. Think how hot a parking lot gets on a
sunny day. Now imagine thin tubes filled with liquid weaving a few inches
under that pavement. As that liquid heats up during the day it is pumped
to a steam generator and converted to electricity. Now imagine how many
roads we have. There are over 400 million miles of road and counting,
not including parking lots.