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3D printed solar panels: Meet the renewable energy revolution. Printed solar panels efficiency

3D printed solar panels: Meet the renewable energy revolution. Printed solar panels efficiency

    Solar Photovoltaic Cell Basics

    When light shines on a photovoltaic (PV) cell – also called a solar cell – that light may be reflected, absorbed, or pass right through the cell. The PV cell is composed of semiconductor material; the “semi” means that it can conduct electricity better than an insulator but not as well as a good conductor like a metal. There are several different semiconductor materials used in PV cells.

    When the semiconductor is exposed to light, it absorbs the light’s energy and transfers it to negatively charged particles in the material called electrons. This extra energy allows the electrons to flow through the material as an electrical current. This current is extracted through conductive metal contacts – the grid-like lines on a solar cells – and can then be used to power your home and the rest of the electric grid.

    The efficiency of a PV cell is simply the amount of electrical power coming out of the cell compared to the energy from the light shining on it, which indicates how effective the cell is at converting energy from one form to the other. The amount of electricity produced from PV cells depends on the characteristics (such as intensity and wavelengths) of the light available and multiple performance attributes of the cell.

    An important property of PV semiconductors is the bandgap, which indicates what wavelengths of light the material can absorb and convert to electrical energy. If the semiconductor’s bandgap matches the wavelengths of light shining on the PV cell, then that cell can efficiently make use of all the available energy.

    Learn more below about the most commonly-used semiconductor materials for PV cells.


    Silicon is, by far, the most common semiconductor material used in solar cells, representing approximately 95% of the modules sold today. It is also the second most abundant material on Earth (after oxygen) and the most common semiconductor used in computer chips. Crystalline silicon cells are made of silicon atoms connected to one another to form a crystal lattice. This lattice provides an organized structure that makes conversion of light into electricity more efficient.

    Solar cells made out of silicon currently provide a combination of high efficiency, low cost, and long lifetime. Modules are expected to last for 25 years or more, still producing more than 80% of their original power after this time.

    Thin-Film Photovoltaics

    A thin-film solar cell is made by depositing one or more thin layers of PV material on a supporting material such as glass, plastic, or metal. There are two main types of thin-film PV semiconductors on the market today: cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). Both materials can be deposited directly onto either the front or back of the module surface.

    CdTe is the second-most common PV material after silicon, and CdTe cells can be made using low-cost manufacturing processes. While this makes them a cost-effective alternative, their efficiencies still aren’t quite as high as silicon. CIGS cells have optimal properties for a PV material and high efficiencies in the lab, but the complexity involved in combining four elements makes the transition from lab to manufacturing more challenging. Both CdTe and CIGS require more protection than silicon to enable long-lasting operation outdoors.

    Perovskite Photovoltaics

    Perovskite solar cells are a type of thin-film cell and are named after their characteristic crystal structure. Perovskite cells are built with layers of materials that are printed, coated, or vacuum-deposited onto an underlying support layer, known as the substrate. They are typically easy to assemble and can reach efficiencies similar to crystalline silicon. In the lab, perovskite solar cell efficiencies have improved faster than any other PV material, from 3% in 2009 to over 25% in 2020. To be commercially viable, perovskite PV cells have to become stable enough to survive 20 years outdoors, so researchers are working on making them more durable and developing large-scale, low-cost manufacturing techniques.

    Organic Photovoltaics

    Organic PV, or OPV, cells are composed of carbon-rich (organic) compounds and can be tailored to enhance a specific function of the PV cell, such as bandgap, transparency, or color. OPV cells are currently only about half as efficient as crystalline silicon cells and have shorter operating lifetimes, but could be less expensive to manufacture in high volumes. They can also be applied to a variety of supporting materials, such as flexible plastic, making OPV able to serve a wide variety of uses.PV

    Quantum Dots

    Quantum dot solar cells conduct electricity through tiny particles of different semiconductor materials just a few nanometers wide, called quantum dots. Quantum dots provide a new way to process semiconductor materials, but it is difficult to create an electrical connection between them, so they’re currently not very efficient. However, they are easy to make into solar cells. They can be deposited onto a substrate using a spin-coat method, a spray, or roll-to-roll printers like the ones used to print newspapers.

    Quantum dots come in various sizes and their bandgap is customizable, enabling them to collect light that’s difficult to capture and to be paired with other semiconductors, like perovskites, to optimize the performance of a multijunction solar cell (more on those below).

    Multijunction Photovoltaics

    Another strategy to improve PV cell efficiency is layering multiple semiconductors to make multijunction solar cells. These cells are essentially stacks of different semiconductor materials, as opposed to single-junction cells, which have only one semiconductor. Each layer has a different bandgap, so they each absorb a different part of the solar spectrum, making greater use of sunlight than single-junction cells. Multijunction solar cells can reach record efficiency levels because the light that doesn’t get absorbed by the first semiconductor layer is captured by a layer beneath it.

    While all solar cells with more than one bandgap are multijunction solar cells, a solar cell with exactly two bandgaps is called a tandem solar cell. Multijunction solar cells that combine semiconductors from columns III and V in the periodic table are called multijunction III-V solar cells.

    Multijunction solar cells have demonstrated efficiencies higher than 45%, but they’re costly and difficult to manufacture, so they’re reserved for space exploration. The military is using III-V solar cells in drones, and researchers are exploring other uses for them where high efficiency is key.

    Concentration Photovoltaics

    Concentration PV, also known as CPV, focuses sunlight onto a solar cell by using a mirror or lens. By focusing sunlight onto a small area, less PV material is required. PV materials become more efficient as the light becomes more concentrated, so the highest overall efficiencies are obtained with CPV cells and modules. However, more expensive materials, manufacturing techniques, and ability to track the movement of the sun are required, so demonstrating the necessary cost advantage over today’s high-volume silicon modules has become challenging.

    Learn more about photovoltaics research in the Solar Energy Technologies Office, check out these solar energy information resources, and find out more about how solar works.

    D printed solar panels: Meet the renewable energy revolution

    3D printing is becoming a major asset for the energy industry. specifically, the impact of additive manufacturing on renewable energy could be really interesting. Regarding the climate change situation, green energies are one of the biggest challenges of our century. As fossil fuels are progressively running out, we observe the development of electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels. But most of these devices are still quite expensive and need to be improved. Hopefully, some researchers are working on 3D printed solar panels in order to make the most of the sun, an inexhaustible resource.

    For example, did you know that 3D printing could be a great method to create solar panels? R esearchers are certifying that the production costs of solar panels could be reduced by 50% thanks to additive manufacturing. They could be even more efficient than traditional solar panels. We will see in this blogpost how the 3D printing technology is helping the renewable energy industry, and more specifically here, solar energy. We will also take a look at all the possibilities and researches made to 3D print solar cells in order to make 3D printed solar panels.

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    Why is 3D printing useful in the energy industry?

    At Sculpteo, we know that 3D printing can be very useful for the energy industry. Indeed, if additive manufacturing can help various sectors such as the medical industry or even the architecture and construction field. it could also help the energy industry.

    Actually, digital manufacturing is a good solution to help you with your projects when it comes to energy. Using this manufacturing method could be a way to improve the quality of your products, and reduce your costs at the same time. The renewable energy industry needs to be more affordable, and additive manufacturing could be the perfect manufacturing process to do so. Let’s see how this technology could be a great help for you if you are planning to develop solar powered structures or any green energy devices.

    3D printing improves your product development process

    3D printing is actually a great method for prototyping. Indeed, it allows to prototype any project faster and at lower costs than with other traditional methods. You can work and rework on your 3D models endlessly on your 3D modeling software to get the design that will perfectly fit your needs and your project. You can do as many iterations as you want before producing your final product. Rapid prototyping is becoming easy as 3D printing is an accurate and quick manufacturing method.

    Using 3D printing: a great way to reduce costs

    If you are looking for a method to reduce your prototyping and production costs, you are in the right place. You can totally use 3D printing for prototyping or production, and it will reduce your costs. Indeed, you are only using the amount of material that you need for your project. over, making iterations thanks to 3D printing is less expensive than making iterations with injection molding. You don’t have to make a whole new mold and go through an expensive process each time you want a new prototype.

    3D printing for production

    If it is great to work on a prototype, digital manufacturing can also help you with your production process. It has great advantages: for example, you can 3D print small batches very easily. With additive manufacturing, you can control your production and order the exact number of printed parts that you need. It is great to produce your whole project or just some parts. On our online 3D printing service. you can choose among a large variety of 3D printing materials. and also among the finishes. 3D printing allows to get products with a great finish and that will last over time.

    Additive manufacturing, a great tool for researchers

    We will see later in this article that 3D printing is a good method to test new ideas and work on new materials. Researchers are always finding new applications and new manners to use this technology. In the energy industry, it enabled to work on new materials in order to create new clean energy devices such as 3D printed solar panels.

    D printed solar panels: How the 3D printing technology is useful for the renewable energy field?

    What is a solar panel?

    Solar panels are modules using solar power in order to create heat or electricity. These devices are made thanks to solar cells. The role of these solar cells is to convert the light into electricity thanks to physical and chemical phenomenons. Most of these solar modules are created with crystalline silicon, but researchers are making this technology evolve quite fast and new materials are appearing like the thin-film solar cells technology.

    This interesting energy device is still under development. The quality and the efficiency of traditional solar panels still have to be increased. That is why researchers interested in 3D printing are making their own experiments in order to create great 3D printed solar panels.

    3D printing is the best solution to create solar panels

    High costs are obviously a brake in the development of renewable energy. Indeed, these devices are still expensive, and they are not accessible to everyone. We saw how 3D printing could be a good tool to develop new projects, and solar panels are the perfect example.

    First, it requires a lot of researches and development in order to get efficient solar panels at the end. These panels require solar cells, a specific device originally made with expensive materials to convert light into electricity. Developing a brand new solar panel, using new materials with new technical properties, is obviously asking to make a lot of tests and prototypes. These kinds of projects have to be clear and you have to get good miniatures to demonstrate the whole project to your team, to investors or future customers. Here, 3D printing could be your ally, because it will allow you to get high quality prototypes, and you will be able to do all the iterations that you need. But if you want to use additive manufacturing to produce, you obviously have to be able to print the material that you need. For solar panels for example, you have to use a specific material to absorb the sunlight.

    So, in theory, 3D printers can help to get green energy at a lower cost. But does it really work?

    Are these 3D printed devices really advantageous?

    3D printed solar panels reduce the costs by 50%

    MIT researchers are certifying that the production costs of solar panels could be reduced by 50% thanks to additive manufacturing. Indeed, for these new constructions, expensive materials s uch as glass, polysilicon and indium are not required. What makes these projects doable are obviously the new materials that can now be 3D printed. For example, synthetic perovskite is now known to be a cheaper material to build photovoltaic structures.

    These devices are easy to implant in developing countries

    At least, it is possible to 3D print solar panels and they are cheaper than traditional glass panels. Indeed the 3D printed panels are lighter, because techniques are developed to print super thin solar strips. By reducing the weight, it also reduces the difficulties linked to their transport. As this technology is becoming affordable, it is now a good solution to make renewable energy accessible for anyone and transportable anywhere, including in developing countries that don’t have an easy access to electricity.

    3D printed solar panels are 20% more efficient

    Regarding the quality of these panels, they are also 20% more efficient than traditional panels, as new techniques, new 3D printing materials and new designs are now developed thanks to 3D printing. Solar industry needed a new innovation, and more than anything else, they needed a way to become more affordable. 3D printing is appearing to be the new revolution in this field.

    Creating solar panels thanks to 3D printing: how is it possible?

    A new 3D printed solar cell technology already exists. This technology could be a game changer for the renewable energy industry. Here are some examples of companies using 3D printing in order to create solar panels, or researchers looking for the best options to develop good solar cells.

    • At the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) they are using industrial 3D printers to print rolls of solar cells. These Australians scientists succeeded in creating A3 sheets of solar cells, that can be used on any surfaces such as Windows or building. These are functional and efficient solar panels. These solar cells are the largest ones, and they are created with flexible lightweight plastic. The scientists developed a photovoltaic ink, that they drop off on the flexible plastic strip. This whole process include gravure coating, slot-die coating and screen printing. Additive manufacturing helped them to produce an accurate system.
    • Australians are making the most of their solar energy, but they are not only 3D printing some solar cells. They are also able to 3D print a whole solar field. Australia has the most important solar irradiance in the world, it is the perfect area to experiment a whole 3D printed solar field.

    This is the project of The Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI), and his lead partner the CSIRO. This device is able to capture concentrated solar radiation as thermal energy. They are literally using a field of heliostats in order to concentrate sunlight between 50 and 1000 times its normal strength. The energy is sent to the receiver tower, that can store all the energy.

    The ASTRI put an STL file of this model on its website, allowing anybody to 3D print these solar panels.

    • At Sculpteo. some of our customers are working on solar energy and 3D printing as well. On the blog, we already told you about Simusolar, a company created in 2014 and willing to bring solar energy to the rural population of Tanzania. They develop and implement small-scale sustainable solutions to help local people in their everyday life. They decided to use 3D printing because they needed a lot of custom made parts. Who are their clients? Farmers, fishers, or rural residents looking for equipment powered by solar electricity.
    • The goal of Kyung-In Synthetic is to provide solar electricity in remote areas, without electricity. In order to do that, they decided to create solar panels thanks to the 3D printing technology. This project could actually provide electricity to more than 1 billion people and become a sustainable solution. These 3D printed solar panels are created using perovskite, a mineral composed of calcium titanate. The capabilities of these perovskite solar cells are improving year over year. They are actually able to create more than one year of full performance, without losing any efficiency. The future of this technology is really promising.
    • Engineers based in New Mexico, at the Sandia National Laboratories worked on solar receivers, proved to be 20% more efficient than traditional solar panels. They configured panels so they can absorb more sunlight than traditional ones. Indeed, thanks to their special structure, they are catching the light at different scales. Additive manufacturing allowed these engineers to create really complex geometries for their solar devices, making the whole process easier to manage. Indeed, they created panels with louvered structure, in order to trap the sunlight. With this system, there is no loss of energy. The light reflects into the receiver, and then, it is absorbed.

    Obviously, to produce such complex devices, new 3D printing materials and processes had to be developed. If solar panels seem difficult to produce, you can see with these examples, that it is totally possible to create 3D printed solar panels with easier and faster processes.

    The future of 3D printed solar panels

    3D printing in this field could quickly become a real asset. For example, it could allow mass-customization in this sector. People will be able to ask for custom 3D printed solar panels, designed especially for their own needs, with the right shape, the right size.

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    The new 3D printing material that has been developed could really change the solar energy industry. over, these low cost and efficient structures will be perfect to create solar powered devices that could allow to bring electricity all around the world, even in remote areas.

    The energy sector and the 3D printing industry are becoming great partners. Together, they could clearly help to develop a lot of affordable green energy projects, in order to fight climate change. If you want to read about more projects linked to 3D printing and energy, read this blogpost on how 3D printing powers the future of energy.

    You want the latest 3D printing news regarding the renewable energy industry, subscribe to our weekly newsletter !

    Graphene Solar: Introduction and Market News

    Solar panel electricity systems, also known as solar photovoltaics (PV), capture the sun’s energy (photons) and convert it into electricity. PV cells are made from layers of semiconducting material, and produce an electric field across the layers when exposed to sunlight. When light reaches the cell, some of it is absorbed into the semiconducting material and causes electrons to break loose and flow. This flow of electrons is an electric current, that can be drawn out and used for powering outside devices. This current, along with the cell’s voltage (a result of built-in electric fields), define the power that the solar cell is capable of producing. It is worth mentioning that a PV cell can produce electricity without direct sunlight, but more sunshine equals more electricity.

    A module, or panel, is a group of cells connected electrically and packaged together. several panels can also form an array, which can provide more electricity and be used for powering larger instruments and devices.

    Different kinds of Solar cells

    Solar cells are roughly divided into three categories: Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and Thin Film. Most of the world’s PVs are based on a variation of silicon. The purity of the silicon, or the more perfectly aligned silicon molecules are, affects how good it will be at converting solar energy. Monocrystalline solar cells (Mono-Si, or single-crystal-Si) go through a process of cutting cylindrical ingots to make silicon wafers, which gives the panels their characteristic look. They have external even coloring that suggests high-purity silicon, thus having the highest efficiency rates (typically 15-20%). They are also space efficient (their efficiency allows them to be small) and live longer than other kinds of solar panels. Alas, they are more expensive than other kinds and tend to be damaged by external dirt or snow.

    Polycrystalline silicon (p-Si or mc-Si) solar cells do not go through the abovementioned process, and so are simpler and cost less than Monocrystalline ones. Their typical efficiency is 13-16%, due to lower silicon purity. They are also bigger and take up more space.

    Thin-Film solar cells (TFSC), are made by depositing one or several thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. Different types of TFSCs are categorized by which photovoltaic material is deposited onto the substrate: Amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium selenide (CIS/CIGS), polymer solar panels and organic photovoltaic cells (OPC). Thin-film modules have reached efficiencies of 7-13%. Their mass production is simple, they can be made flexible and are potentially cheaper to manufacture than crystalline-based solar cells. They do, however, take up a lot of space (hampering their use in residential applications) and tend to degrade faster than crystalline solar panels.

    Solar power advantages and disadvantages

    Solar power is free and infinite, and solar energy use indeed has major advantages. It is an eco-friendly, sustainable way of energy production. Solar energy systems today are also much cheaper than they were 20 years ago, and save money in electricity expenses. In addition, it is a much environmentally cleaner form of energy production that helps reduce global warming and coal pollution. It does not waste water like coal and nuclear power plants and is also considered to be a form of energy that is much safer for use.

    Although solar power production is widely considered to be a positive thing, some downsides require mentioning. The initial cost of purchasing and installing solar panels can be substantial, despite widespread government subsidy programs and tax initiatives. Sun exposure is critical and so location plays a significant role in the generation of electricity. Areas that are cloudy or foggy for long periods of time will produce much less electricity. Other commonly argues disadvantages regard insufficiency of produced electricity and reliability issues.

    Solar power applications

    Common solar energy applications include various residential uses such as solar lighting, heating and ventilation systems. Many small appliances utilize solar energy for operation, like calculators, scales, toys and more. Agriculture and horticulture also employ solar energy for the operation of different aids like water pumps and crop drying machines. The field of transportation has been interested in solar powered vehicles for many years, including cars, planes and boats that are vigorously researched and developed. Solar energy also has various industrial applications, ranging from powering remote locations as well as space and satellite systems, to powering transportation signals, lighthouses, offshore navigation systems and many more.

    Solar technologies are vigorously researched, aiming to lower costs and improve existing products as well as integrate PV systems in innovative products like PV-powered curtains, clothes and laptop cases.

    Graphene and solar panels

    Graphene is made of a single layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons. It is a 2 dimensional material with amazing characteristics, which grant it the title “wonder material”. It is extremely strong and almost entirely transparent and also astonishingly conductive and flexible. Graphene is made of carbon, which is abundant, and can be a relatively inexpensive material. Graphene has a seemingly endless potential for improving existing products as well as inspiring new ones.

    Solar cells require materials that are conductive and allow light to get through, thus benefiting from graphene’s superb conductivity and transparency. Graphene is indeed a great conductor, but it is not very good at collecting the electrical current produced inside the solar cell. Hence, researchers are looking for appropriate ways to modify graphene for this purpose. Graphene Oxide (GO), for example, is less conductive but more transparent and a better charge collector which can be useful for solar panels.

    The conductive Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) is used with a non-conductive glass layer as the transparent electrodes in most organic solar panels to achieve these goals, but ITO is rare, brittle and makes solar panels expensive. Many researches FOCUS on graphene as a replacement for ITO in transparent electrodes of OPVs. Others search for ways of utilizing graphene in improving overall performance of photovoltaic devices, mainly OPVs, as well as in electrodes, active layers, interfacial layers and electron acceptors.

    Commercialization efforts

    While graphene-based solar cells are not currently commercially available, some efforts are bearing fruit in regards to the use of graphene in auxiliary aspects of PV. One such example is ZNShine Solar’s G12 evolution era series. comprised of a 12-busbar graphene module, 5-busbar graphene module and double-glass graphene module. According to reports, the application of ZS’s graphene film layer increases light transmission performance of the glass itself. In addition, Znshine Solar’s modules are self-cleaning. In July 2018, ZNShine Solar won the bid to provide 37.5MW of PV modules to Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), India’s largest power generation equipment manufacturer. According to the contract, 10% of the shipment will be graphene-coated solar panels. In June 2019, Znshine Solar announced signing a 100MW graphene-enhanced solar module supply agreement with UAE’s Etihad Energy services.

    Solar cell fabrics to power every surface

    MIT researchers developed printable, paper-thin solar cells with record breaking weight-to-power ratios.


    A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a technique to print durable, flexible solar cells that are thinner than a human hair. The lightweight PV can be easily affixed to any surface like a sticker, quickly turning any surface to a productive renewable energy generator.

    The cells are one-hundredth the weight of conventional solar panels and generate 18 times as much power-per-kilogram. They are made from nanomaterial semiconducting inks using printing processes that the researchers can readily scale for large-area manufacturing.

    The fabric solar cells are 50 microns thin and achieve a specific power of 370 W per kg. For reference, a human hair is 70 microns thick.

    The thin, lightweight solar cells have many potential applications, including integration into boat sails, adhered to the side of tents, or applied to the wings of drones. The MIT team deposited the printed solar cells on Dyneema fabric, a sturdy tarp-like substance popular in the ultralight hiking world, making the cells sturdy while not sacrificing the flexibility and light-weight properties.

    “The metrics used to evaluate a new solar cell technology are typically limited to their power conversion efficiency and their cost in dollars-per-watt. Just as important is integrability — the ease with which the new technology can be adapted. The lightweight solar fabrics enable integrability, providing impetus for the current work. We strive to accelerate solar adoption, given the present urgent need to deploy new carbon-free sources of energy,” says Vladimir Bulović, MIT researcher and senior author of the report.

    Conventional solar cells are encapsulated in glass and aluminum frames, limiting where they can be installed. A typical Massachusetts rooftop solar installation is about 8 kW, adding about 1,000 lbs. to a roof. The Dyneema-affixed solar cell would only add 44 lbs. to produce the same amount of power.

    The cells have resisted stress-tests well. After rolling and unrolling a fabric solar panel more than 500 times, the cells still retained more than 90% of their initial capacity.

    In 2016, a team from ONE Lab produced solar cells using emergent thin-film materials that were lightweight enough to sit atop a soap bubble. However, the cells were manufactured using complex, vacuum-based processes, an expensive and challenging task to scale up. The new MIT-developed solar fabrics are entirely printable, making them scalable for large-area production.

    The cells are made with printed electronic inks, coating the solar cell structure using a slot-die coaster, which deposits layers of electronic materials onto a prepared, resealable substrate. Using a screen-printing process similar to T-shirt design printing, an electrode is deposited on the structure to complete a solar module. The module is then peeled from the substrate, and later affixed to the Dyneema fabric for stability.

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    Ryan Kennedy

    Ryan joined pv magazine in 2021, bringing experience from a top residential solar installer, and a U. S.

    The Latest Advancements in Solar Technology

    With continuous and growing interest in the applications and benefits of solar technology, the industry has been in a constant state of innovation over the past several years. This innovation has led to advancements in solar efficiency, solar energy storage, printable solar technology, solar design technology, and more.

    “Going solar” is more convenient than ever before because programs like Community Solar support local solar energy generation, and because the technologies that make this possible have seen many advancements in recent years. While most of the United States’ energy grid still comes from fossil fuel energy sources (e.g., natural gas, coal, and petroleum), solar power becomes more and more accessible whenever solar technologies evolve and become more efficient.

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    Clearway Community Solar is committed to achieving a clean energy future by making solar accessible to more homeowners, and believes that the more reliable and competitive solar options become, the closer we will get to achieving that goal. Our community solar programs have come a long way over the years, now servicing 28 states with the capacity to power about 2.7 million homes. And we won’t stop there!

    Let’s take a look at some of the latest advancements in solar technology that are paving the way forward for a brighter, cleaner future.

    Solar Efficiency

    The efficiency of solar cells has accelerated at a remarkable pace over the last decade. Solar efficiency is measured by the amount of sunlight (irradiation) that falls on the surface of a solar panel and is available for energy conversion. With the latest advances in photovoltaic technology, the average conversion efficiency has increased from 15% to over 20%.

    One factor that can lead to a loss of efficiency is the change in sun angle throughout the day as Earth rotates on its axis. Solar tracking systems. designed to tilt and position the panels towards the sun, first came around in the late 80s, but the technology had a long way to go. Today, a sun-tracking solar panel system with a single axis can see performance gains ranging from 25%-35%.

    Solar Storage

    Another limiting factor of solar energy has been the fact that the sun’s light does not shine on solar panels at night, so for those hours of darkness, energy could not be converted. In May 2016, Enel Green Power North America created a solar power plant that could produce electricity at night by storing energy collected from the sun during the day into a battery system.

    Nighttime solar took a further leap when Stanford University researchers created solar panels that can generate electricity at night through a thermoelectric generator. Research conducted this year confirms that these nighttime cells produced enough energy to power a cellphone.

    New Materials

    The latest breakthrough in materials could move solar cell technology away from the current limitations of using silicon. In 2016, researchers made the first solar cell with perovskite crystals, which can be up to 20% more efficient than silicon-based solar cells. However, silicon still outperformed perovskite-based cells in terms of viability for commercial use. In June 2022, researchers at Princeton University developed the first commercially-viable perovskite solar cells. which can be manufactured at room temperature and require less energy to produce than silicon-based solar cells. The cheaper production cost and improved sustainability applied to a utility scale with a 30-year life expectancy is exciting news for the solar energy industry. Perovskite cells are also more flexible and can be transparent, which expands the realm of possibilities for their application and usefulness.

    Innovative Designs

    There have also been interesting and exciting breakthroughs in solar design, such as printable solar cells. which are flexible, lightweight, and can be placed on a wide range of other materials. These solar cells can even be printed in smaller sizes and incorporated into electronic accessories such as phones, tablets, and laptops.

    This year, the world saw the first ever production-ready solar-powered car. While electric cars have been around for quite a while, this is the first vehicle in production where solar panels have been added to recharge the car’s battery while it drives, adding about 44 miles per day to the already 388 miles the car ranges between battery charges.

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