INDUSTRY ADVANCES AND INCREASED FUNDINGA market research firm has predicted a 15% rise in the growth of the solar energy industry over each of the next three years. The cost of solar cells is also predicted to drop by 10% per year through the year 2020. Increased funding is also becoming available. In late 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced two new grants as part of the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative.
One grant consists of $21 million to be spent over the next five years to increase the availability and ease of use of photovoltaic solar cells to make solar energy more attractive to consumers. Another $8 million grant will be used to study better ways to forecast and track the quantity of solar energy produced to increase the effectiveness of the solar energy grid.
SUSTAINABLE SOLAR PANELSOne expected advance that was presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in 2012 is the use of more sustainable and commonplace materials to construct solar panels. Currently rare earth metals such as gallium and indium are used.
These substances are expensive and difficult to source, as most rare earth metals are mined in China. Replacing these materials with less expensive and easier to obtain alternatives such as zinc and copper will lower the cost of solar panels and bring them within the reach of more Americans.
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3D SOLAR COLLECTORSThe days of flat solar cells may not be over yet, but a new technology that uses stackable cells is on the way. This 3D arrangement has been found to produce up to 20 times the electricity of a single flat photovoltaic cell without taking up additional space. These cells also allow for the capture of lower-angled sunlight, so more energy is available during peak morning and evening hours.
CONTINUING RESEARCH ON TRANSPARENT THIN FILM POLYMER SOLAR CELLS AND CARBON USEIn July 2012, researchers at UCLA announced the development of a new solar cell technology; a virtually transparent thin film polymer that can be used on windows or even to wrap entire buildings. The technology uses metallic nano-wires that are .001 the width of a human hair, making them invisible to the naked eye.
These nano-wires are embedded in a clear plastic film and capture infrared solar rays. This technology is still in the research phase as scientists attempt to increase its efficiency. Other technologies currently under development include several methods to replace all or part of the silicon currently used in photovoltaic cells with carbon.
About the Guest Author:
Peter Wendt is a writer and researcher from Austin, TX ready to go energy independent in the new year. Wendt found Native in Central Texas to be a great resource for Austin solar power systems.