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Solar power, whilst maybe not able to boast the largest capacity of the renewable energy sources, can surely claim to be the most popular. In the US the installed solar capacity grew by 600% over the past five years, with a total 3,313 megawatts in 2012, according to PopSci.
The main problem that still dogs solar energy, and prevents it from truly competing with fossil fuels, is the fact that it is still too expensive. To solve this problem, new techniques must be developed to produce more efficient solar cells whilst at the same time reducing the manufacturing costs.
Here we will look at three different techniques that attempt to reduce the cast of solar energy generation.
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It may come as a surprise, but solar cells must be in the sun in order to work. They convert the light from the sun into useable electricity. The problem is that the sun also transmits a large amount of heat energy, and as the solar cells absorb this energy and heat up, they become less efficient.
V3Solar has designed a new solar cell called the Spin Cell, which consists of an outer cone of lenses which focus the sun’s rays onto an inner cone covered in PV cells. The cones rotate at speed, meaning that the cells absorb the light, and then spin away before the heat energy can be transferred. This allows the Spin Cell to be made from cheaper, less heat resistant materials.
Greg Nielson, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, has developed a solar glitter than can turn almost any surface into a power source. His belief is that solar power could become cheaper through bulk, by literally turning almost every fabric, or surface in the world into a solar energy generator. His solar glitter can also be used in the production of traditional PV panels to double their efficiency.
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Another similar idea is a product manufactured by Pvilion of New York, who produces a solar fabric that can be used on large-scale commercial installations. The company’s fabric, which is as efficient as standard rigid solar panels, can be used to cover structures such as, a footbridge being designed in Florida, and the new US embassy in London, which will have a generation capacity of 124MW. The company is even in the process of making solar curtains for buildings in New York City.
The last idea that we will consider is from Sunfolding, which uses plastic frames and compressed air to create cheap, lightweight heliostat frames to ensure the mirrors are always facing the sun. Their system can produce the same effect as a heavy, steel heliostat frames but at just a fifth of the cost.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com