Solar power is enjoying a development and research boom as new photovoltaic and battery technologies go mainstream

Solar wave cresting higher

by Andy Bryenton

Solar power has been talked about in terms of the future since the 1960s, but the message here and now is clear — it’s coming into its own as mainstream uptake increases. Just like the automobile, mass demand has begun to demand mass supply, and that means mass investment in massive new leaps forward.

The first thing solar suppliers want you to know is that today’s solar power is not the weaker, less useful system from those early years. It’s already a viable solution to get off the grid, to supply energy to far-flung areas, and to augment existing systems for both economic and ecological reasons. Using that car analogy again there’s research and development in the works, which will crank the power up to Formula One levels.

There are three core components to a solar system, and all three have been the subject of vast pushes in research. Take, for example, the University of Toronto, Canada, where scientists have developed new, tiny light-sensitive particles called colloidal quantum dots. These are a breakthrough, as semiconductors of this kind could not be used outside the lab before. This one innovation could add a healthy eight per cent boost to solar panels’ efficiency. British researchers have high hopes for gallium arsenide, a material, which could make existing photovoltaic systems three times more efficient.

A solar unit is nothing without its batteries, and the best news here is that an arms race of battery tech has broken out in the field of electric vehicles.

Batteries have become smaller and more capacious, as evidenced by the rise of drones, e-scooters and e-bikes as well as cars like Tesla’s Model X and BMW’s i8. Research is ongoing into incorporating batteries into the solar panel itself for more efficient production and compact deployment, as well as the use of molten inorganic salts to store energy. Better battery controllers are also now available, increasing the lifetime and efficiency of storage systems.

The future looks exceptionally bright for solar power, but why wait?

Systems that can save you money and also contribute to saving the planet are out there now. It’s no longer a case of being an early adopter — it’s a case of not being left behind.