6 Radical Solar Technologies

By Yoni Binstock, Originally published on Mosaic

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of reaching less than $1 a watt for complete installed solar systems by 2020. Reaching $1/watt would bring the cost of solar power to 6 cents/ kWh, which is cheaper than the average cost per kWh from natural gas power plants and would allow solar to grow without any subsidies. Scientists and entrepreneurs around the world are developing new solar technologies ranging from improvements to existing technologies to completely transformative innovations. Here’s a list of several new technologies that we’re most excited about.

1) Solar Paint | Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed low-cost solar paint using nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, coated with cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. Once brushed onto any conducting materials and exposed to the sunlight, the paint will create electricity with a light-to-energy conversion efficiency of 1%.  Its efficiency is not high enough for current market use, but hopefully with continued development, we can imagine a day that any surface could generate solar power.

2) Solar Fabric | Pvillion is making fabric with solar power capabilities for use in commercial applications. The company’s fabric, which is as efficient as standard solar panels, could be used to cover structures such as the US embassy in London, which will have a generation capacity of 124MW.

3) Solar Windows | Companies like Oxford Photovoltaics are working to develop transparent glass solar panels, which would allow windows to become power generators.

4) Solar Roadways | Onyx Solar is currently developing PV floor panels suitable for sidewalks and Solar Roadways is prototyping their plan to cover roads and parking lots with embedded solar panels.  Parking lots cover up to 15% of city surfaces and highways crisscrossing all over the country, so the potential for this technology is enormous.

5) Space-based Solar | It may sound silly, obviously solar comes from space but some companies are preparing to launch giant solar panels into space. Solaren Corp plans to provide 200 megawatts of power for at least 15 years, starting in 2016, to the Pacific Gas & Electric Company of California.

6) Increased Efficiency | Solar panel manufacturer China Sunergy, is testing a new line of two-sided solar cells that can absorb light from both the front and back. Where a one-sided solar panel might generate 340 watts, a two-sided one might generate up to 400 watts. They expect the panels to generate 10-20% more electricity over the course of a year compared to one-sided panels. Scientists in PV efficiency recently announced a new record for solar efficiency of 44.7% using CPV or concentrated photovoltaic technology. Although just in the research phase, these efficiencies have the potential to revolutionize the solar industry.