Advancements in Solar Panel Technology, and a Few Little Things Holding it Back

Desert tortoises are not the the only things holding up the development of solar energy

Technology is always improving. Every year things become smaller and more powerful. Solar Panel technology is exactly the same as any other form of technology, and as time goes on, the technology has only got better.

As someone with a fascination for science, new technology and eco living, and also as a blogger for Ardenham Energy, a UK installer of sonar panels and green technology, there are two big advancements that have made me very excited lately. The first is research into the surface of solar panels and trying to replicate the structure of a leaf (I’ll explain this a bit more soon) and the second is Nano technology that means it might be possible to build solar panels into clear windows, making the big black slabs on rooftops obsolete.

I think I’ll start by talking about the leaf-like structure research first.

Engineers at Princeton University have been trying to mimic the fold and wrinkles of a leaf within a solar cell, and it seems they are succeeding. To top that off, it seems as if these leaf-like cells are much more effective than their traditional counterparts.

Nature Photonics published an article by the research team, in which they claimed their design could produce almost 50% more electricity than a standard photovoltaic cell. The increase in surface area allowed for a greater reception of light, as well as the ability to more successfully guide and retain light.

The engineers used a technique involving ultra-violet light to cure a layer of liquid photographic adhesive. By adjusting the speed of curing they were able to produce layers of varied sizes and depths. At first the team didn’t expect the experiment to work as well as it did. Jim Bok Kim, the author of the paper claimed its effects were “better than my expectations”.

Couple this will the news that energy entrepreneur Justin Hall-Tipping recently unveiled his discovery of Nano-technology which allows solar cells to be placed on windows in a way the window still remains clear.

Hall-Tipping’s invention works by using a clear film containing scientifically engineered electrons that harness solar energies that would normally be lost to the thermal process. This would not only power utilities around the home, but also help regulate temperature by storing excess heat when it’s warm and then releasing it when cold.

It might still be a while before this technology become completely viable – some scientists say 20 years – but it’s still looking good for solar power, especially on a home-to-home basis.

One of the main problems with solar panels has been some folks’ reluctance to install them on their home. I write ‘on’ because they have traditionally been pegged on to the roof. This is how it has always been, and how it will continue to be, until new technology is developed. This isn’t really a problem with newer homes, but can be for older buildings, such as those from the Victorian era. Solar Panels look very out of place on buildings like this, and in many cases the houses are protected and getting permission for panels to be installed can be difficult. Obviously, if the solar panels are in the glass of the windows, this won’t be as much of a problem.

Not everyone who could have had solar panels installed on their home, has had solar panels installed on their home, and so the task of implementing solar on a mass scale, has fallen to other people. BrightSource Energy has been commissioned by the US government to build a 15 square km solar farm, in California’s Mojave Desert. Once the farm is complete it is estimated that it will be able to provide power for 140,000 homes. It was originally supported by green energy groups, but has now come under fire from conservation groups who claim the farm is destroying the national habitat of the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).

BrightSource have promised to hire biologists to find and relocate the Tortoises, and have found a staggering amount so far. The tortoises are being kept in care, and will later be released back into the wild.

One of the strangest elements of the situation is that BrightSource seem to be finding a lot more tortoises than any other solar farm producer is the area has previously found and they’ve somewhat become the butt of a joke, in which they appear to have been struck by some sort of cute curse. To me, it just seems to be a friendly reminder that nature often has its own plans, and human kind, no matter how hard we try, can never be 100% in control.

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