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3 Recent Cleantech Breakthroughs in Solar Efficiency

As solar power companies like SunPower Corporation, SunEdison Inc. and SolarCity continue to gain market share in the residential solar industry, more homeowners are beginning to see the true value of installing solar panels on their homes. Continual breakthroughs in technology allow these companies to offer lower prices to compete in the market. According to SolarCity, residential solar photovoltaics (PV) installations are up 61%. The company has also has plans to partner with 30 home builders in over 100 U.S. communities. The two foreseeable threats to residential solar power would be DIY panels and cheaper panels coming from overseas manufacturers. However, U.S. companies are working hard to develop new technology and stay ahead of the competition.

The following are three new developments that offer cost efficiency, additional ways to collect solar energy and better energy storage.

1. Harvesting Blue Light For Solar Cell Efficiency – Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin believe they have found blue light-friendly solar cell material that boosts solar cell efficiency to the next level while keeping costs down. The new Argonne solar cell research pivots on the manufacturing process to harvest more light from the blue end of the spectrum. The common assumption is that yellow is a more suitable color for solar panels. However, blue light has excess energy that can be captured as heat. This new finding will not entirely replace existing yellow panels, but will be combined to increase cost efficiency on a larger scale.

2. Solar Windows – Traditional residential solar panels installed on roofs do not always appeal to the average homeowner. These panels can be an aesthetic hindrance to the home’s original architectural design. Most panels also share space with HVAC systems, emergency exits and other maintenance equipment. They can also block locations where view decks can be installed, or even places to grow plants and gardens. The logical solution to these issues moves to the second largest exposed area on the structure: windows. So how exactly can windows be converted into solar panels? Isn’t the point of photovoltaics to collect all the sunlight? Thin films are sprayed onto glass, and within those films, tiny functional organic solar cells, about one-fourth the size of a grain of rice collect light from both the sun and internal light bulbs which is then converted into electricity. Although solar windows do not capture the same amount of energy as traditional roof panels, it can add up to a substantial amount of energy that can be used by the residence without relying on rooftop panels alone.

3. Energy Storage – Solar panels traditionally collect energy from sunlight during peak hours. Problems arise when a natural disaster occurs that prevents energy gathering for long periods. According to RMI senior associate Leia Guccione, “For a long time battery energy storage was referred to as the holy grail of energy; people said it will become viable when we figure out cold fusion.” SolarCity and Tesla have partnered up to utilize Tesla’s battery technology to offer backup power for SolarCity’s residential solar customers. This new technology will be able to drive costs down for energy storage and offer homeowners peace of mind when the grid goes down or solar panels aren’t able to efficiently collect sunlight.

The residential solar power industry is proving its efficiency with more and more homeowners opting to install panels and utility companies being forced to compete for business. It is proving to be a viable long term enterprise and the roadblocks ahead are minor compared to the force of constant innovation from solar companies. Driving the costs of installation down, increasing storage efficiency and providing more ways to collect energy are all exciting solutions for the industry.

For the latest news on cleantech and solar power, sign up for our newsletter and receive tips on how you too can reap the benefits of natural energy from the sun.

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