What the Future of Solar PV Might Look Like

A well-established means with which to harness clean energy using the power of the sun, various innovations in solar PV technology look set to make this science both generally more accessible, but also altogether more aesthetically pleasing.

While we’ve come a long way in terms of what’s achievable via a strategically positioning series of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels mated within a power grid, such is the rate of innovation within this hugely significant industry that it may not be long before this technology more seamlessly integrates into our everyday lives. We look at five of the most pertinent future-focused updates likely coming our way in the not-too-distant future.

1. Floatovoltaics

We’ve all seen the images of fields of neatly mounted solar PV panels sited on otherwise not particularly habitable expanses of land. Yet, the further away from civilisation we place these solar farms, the greater the potential corresponding costs involved in focusing this energy on a particular grid. One altogether more efficient solution being explored involves floating these farms atop of dams, reservoirs and lakes. Apart from sparing otherwise ecological sensitive land, research suggests that so-called Floatovoltaics can prove up to 10% more productive in terms of respective energy delivery compared with land-based solar PV units.

Lessons learnt from the first commercial floating panel farm, opened in California is 2008, suggest other advantages of this solution include improved water management at the sites being used, notably via a lowering of the draining effect caused by evaporation.

2. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)

Acknowledging the potential of solar power in terms of both long-term sustainability and overall efficiency, greater attention is now being paid towards innovative ways of incorporating this technology within buildings and new developments, from the outset. While roof-mounted solar PV systems remain a broadly popular solution, many forward-thinking architects and developers are exploring ways of consolidating these energy-management systems within the various facades associated with a new build. These include curtain walls, skylight systems and parking area car ports.

In 2005, a refurbishment project carried out on the CIS Tower in Manchester, England, replaced the building’s deteriorating mosaic exterior tiles with a complement of BIPV units. Able to generate an estimated 180 000 kWh worth of electricity per year, this system was soon able to start feeding energy back into its host city’s grid.

3. Solar fabric and accessories

Already prevalent within accessories like backpacks and camping gear, the integration of solar PV technology within clothing items and apparel looks set to become more popular, notably as this science takes on more flexible, customisable forms. Researchers are currently even working on a type of solar fabric that sees miniscule solar filaments “woven” into the fibre of a particular garment. This type of wearable technology would obviously make perfect sense in climates like ours, blessed as it is with an abundance of sunlight.

Another interesting application already in the works is the incorporation of solar PV technology within the packaging of electric vehicles, even if to power some of the car’s auxiliary systems to lessening the workload of the main battery.

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