Solar – the most abundant renewable energy on the planet |
Recently there have been dramatic breakthroughs in solar energy that will help further the mainstream use of photovoltaic (PV) technology, as well as solar thermal technologies (CSP, solar parabolics, solar water heaters). Breakthroughs in solar are bringing solar closer to cost parity, and in many cases even at a lower cost, compared to fossil fuels. A key development that will enable the widespread use of solar is the production of cells using less expensive, and readily available materials. Silicon has traditionally been the preferred material for PV, however, sodium, cadmium telluride, copper and selenium (among other materials) are now also used to produce PV cells. These materials are used to produce highly efficient, low-cost cells.
Nano PV cells result in much more compact, thinner, more efficient solar units. Nanotechnologies in PV with from 4 to 7 times (or more) the efficiency of standard photovoltaic cells are in the R&D phase today, with limited commercial availability. However, here are nano and alternative material PV cells with substantially higher efficiency than the standard (double to triple the standard 12-15% efficiency) in the solar market. The solar arrays now being produced could be exponentially improved with the development, refinement, and implementation of nanotechnology. For more information on materials used to make modern solar cells, please see: Renewable Energy: Solar.
In addition to advancements in traditional photovoltaic technology, there have been exponential advancements in the field of solar thermal energy. Instead of simply converting energy from the sun into electricity, with solar thermal technology, solar energy heats water, molten salt, or another working fluid, and then steam is used to drive generators. Solar thermal represents an advancement in solar energy with 4 to 5 times the power density of PV. Large-scale solar thermal projects are known as concentrated solar power (CSP). Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a good example of a successful large-scale CSP operation.The most promising new projects in the world of solar power are in CSP. Solar thermal technologies have found great use in the emerging field of thermal energy storage.
See this link for a detailed description of the various types of solar thermal systems touched on in this article – sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/solar-thermal-storage
One commercially successful application of solar power is the solar-powered water heater. Solar powered water heaters are mandatory in new construction in the entire country of Israel, and now, in the state of Hawaii. Some of the other new applications of solar thermal energy include power generation, solar water heating, and space heating in industrial buildings, schools, hospitals, and even in remotely situated buildings.
Both types of solar energy (PV and solar thermal) will continue to steadily lessen in cost as technological advancements are made. However, photovoltaic is projected to remain ahead of thermal in terms of cost of production and utilization. Solar thermal does have a couple of advantages which compensate for the higher cost. Solar thermal energy is produced consistently throughout the day, not relying on weather conditions. as the turbine will run on natural gas if there is no sun for an extended period of time. Solar thermal units fit easily with power storage systems and will continue to produce energy at night, using energy harnessed during the day.
Related links on solar energy:
“Today’s average commercial solar panel converts 17-19% of the light energy hitting it to electricity. This is up from 12% just 10 years ago. But what if we could boost this to 30%?
More efficient solar cells mean we could get much more than today’s 2.4% of global electricity supply from the sun.
Solar is already the world’s fastest growing energy technology. Ten years ago, there were only 20 gigawatts of installed solar capacity globally – one gigawatt being roughly the output of a single large power station.” FROM – bbc.com/ A breakthrough approaches for solar power
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