The most recent news from the world of solar energy are reviewed and curated by experts, so you can stay up-to-date on the latest developments in this ever-evolving field.
Last year, we covered the groundbreaking work that the MIT team had done with a liquid-cooled solar thermal power plant. The results were nothing short of spectacular – the plant was more than 85% efficient at converting sunlight to heat and powering a nearby building. Now, the team has developed an enhanced model, called the Miketo Solar 2.0. It’s essentially the same system, but with some important improvements that make it even more suitable for use around the world.
The biggest difference between the original Miketo Solar and the improved model is size. The larger version is about 17 feet high, 12 feet wide, and 10 feet deep – a considerable amount of space for something so compact. The solar thermal power plant can store energy in a large pool of molten salt (more on that in a bit), which makes it more suitable for generating electricity in remote areas where there is no access to grid-supplied power. Even when the sun isn’t shining, the system can automatically produce electricity using the heat that the sun naturally emits, creating what is known as a “behind-the-scenes” power plant.
Flexible Solar Panels
A few years back, we discussed the many advantages that crystalline silicon solar panels offer over other types of solar panels. They’re more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, they generate less heat, and they’re more robust against extreme environments and conditions – all of which make them much more suitable for use in more places and circumstances. A company known as CIGS has developed a new generation of solar panels that are largely made from plastic substrates, which are both lighter and more flexible than the typical silicon-based panels. This makes them ideally suited for use in a wider array of applications, from small installations on residential rooftops to large-scale commercial solar farms.
More Than Just Shelves
Last year, we also covered a development that could significantly alter the way we look at solar energy storage. Engineers at the Technical University of Denmark have come up with a way to use solar energy not just to power appliances but to store it in a large bank of batteries. The technology essentially combines a solar-powered system with a wind power plant. When the wind blows, the system generates electricity that is stored in batteries. When there’s no wind or when the sun starts to set, the system functions as a regular solar panel, generating electricity that feeds an on-site power system, which in turn supplies electricity to the grid. This is not a new idea. Similar systems have been tested and used for a long time, but the combined use of a wind power plant and some sophisticated battery storage makes the whole thing more efficient and secure.
New FinTech Solutions
It has long been said that the best way to successfully implement any kind of renewable energy scheme is through the use of innovative technology. This is especially the case when it comes to solar energy, where the pace of technological change is rapid and evolving constantly – sometimes even beyond our wildest dreams! One of the most exciting developments in recent times relates to the growing number of companies that are disrupting the traditional solar energy market, providing low-cost, high-quality panels and other products that were unimaginable a few years ago.
The most significant development is Helio, a company that designs, builds, and operates modular, off-grid solar power plants. The firm has grown rapidly, and now has more than 1,000 employees. What makes Helio stand out is its focus on affordability and innovation, while still adhering to quality controls and good customer service. The company has built a reputation for offering high-quality, cost-effective solar power plants, which means that more and more customers are seeking out its products. This has led to an increase in demand and an improvement in the company’s bottom line. The reduced price of solar power and the increased popularity of hybrid electricity systems, such as wind turbines and solar power plants, are also responsible for the increased demand for solar panels and other products that can be used in conjunction with wind power plants. This, in turn, benefits the environment by reducing carbon emissions. One of the firm’s products, the HelioPower plant, is a self-sufficient, off-grid renewable energy source that produces enough electricity to power multiple homes.
Cost-Effective And Environment-Friendly
While the cost of generating electricity from renewable energy sources can be significantly lower than the cost of conventional electricity produced by fossil fuels, there’s an important environmental cost that many overlook. The vast majority of solar panels – anywhere from 85% to 90% of the total – are now made from materials that are sourced from fossil fuels, such as copper, indium, silver, and titanium. As already mentioned, some of these materials are becoming more expensive due to the limited supply and the increasing demand, especially from manufacturers trying to stay within increasingly stringent sustainability guidelines and targets.
With many people seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, investing in and installing renewable energy sources and products becomes more attractive. According to the Global Solar Demand & Analysis Report, published by the Global Market Insights team at the Economist Intelligence Unit, total solar demand is expected to grow from 17.3 GW in 2018 to 23.2 GW in 2028, as economies such as China and India upgrade their energy infrastructure. The demand for solar electricity is forecast to rise due to government incentives and the decrease in cost – which was largely the result of technological innovation and increased production. As the cost of solar electricity continues to drop, the number of people investing in or considering investing in solar panels and systems increases. This is likely to lead to a significant rise in the demand for solar energy, as more and more people seek to generate their own electricity using natural sunlight rather than turning on their tap, which eventually leads to energy poverty and climate change.
Storing Energy In A Large Pool Of Molten Salt
In an earlier article, we discussed how the MIT researchers used a liquid-cooled solar thermal power plant to generate electricity. The system incorporates a solar PV array, a bank of thermal storage, and an electric generator. Liquid-cooled storage is a great way to store energy. It keeps the heat local, which reduces your exposure to extreme temperatures, and it allows for quick recovery of electricity – important for grid-connected power plants or those operating on an irregular basis.
What makes this form of energy storage so attractive is that it is extremely safe, portable, and reliable. The technology was first developed in the early 1960s and has since been implemented in more than 25 countries, with many of the world’s largest power companies and industrial plants using it. The ability to store large amounts of energy in a liquid coolant also makes it more suitable for use in remote and rural areas, where connecting to the electricity grid could be difficult or expensive.
Another type of liquid-cooled storage, referred to as molten salt storage, is also used by power companies around the world. The Energy Self-Sufficient Home uses solar energy to generate electricity, water heating, and hot showers. The system has a solar thermal power unit, a thermal battery, and a molten salt power module – all connected to a single, liquid-cooled storage tank.
More Than One Way To Use Renewable Energy
Last but not least, we’d like to discuss a brilliant new idea that will no doubt delight and amaze you. The MIT researchers, who also designed and built the liquid-cooled solar thermal power plant that we’ve just covered, have developed a system that functions as a miniature power plant, supplying electricity to nearby homes and businesses. As before, the system incorporates a solar PV array, a bank of thermal storage, and an electric generator. The difference this time is that the team’s solution also uses a wind turbine and a marine engine, along with a little bit of synthetic fuel. When the wind blows, the turbine turns the rotor, which in turn spins the generator, causing it to produce electricity. Since the electricity is being generated locally, there is no need for a large power station, saving both space and resources. When the wind stops or when there’s no longer any sunbeams to capture, the system shuts down, and can be completely relied on and independently operated by the homeowner or business owner.
All in all, the last few years have seen rapid and significant development in solar energy technology, especially as it relates to small-scale systems and products that can be used to generate electricity off-grid. From the bigger and more traditional solar thermal power plants to the more innovative methods for generating and storing electricity, it’s clear that the world of solar energy is moving in a completely new direction.