While the efficiency of nuclear power, fossil fuels, and geothermal energy has not changed drastically over the past few decades, the green revolution has seen huge breakthroughs in only the past decade with solar efficiency. Half a century ago, solar power represented only a peep on the horizon, while today it appears to be the next big breakthrough in the search for energy independence. Sometimes technological progress takes long, laborious decades to break through, while sometimes many breakthroughs occur in rapid time. Solar appears to be part of the latter phenomenon.
Between the Sun and the Cell
It goes without saying that the quality of power generated by a solar cell depends on the amount of sunlight it can absorb. Until now, the determining factor of absorption was geography, as certain parts of the country and world receive less light — the American southwest has as little as a dozen cloudy days a year, the Pacific Northwest has as many as three hundred. The same problem goes for the glass covering the cells itself, since even a small smudge can drastically lower the efficiency of a unit. Previous attempts to solve this green conundrum attempted to create self-cleaning glass, but wound up with little energy gain. A team of Maryland engineers may have solved the dilemma by inventing a clear spray that acts in the same manner as glass without the limitations of light-filtering particles on normal glass. This would allow any of the billions of windows in the world to absorb light better and create green power more efficiently.
Heat and Power
Just like a car’s engine becomes heated up whenever you begin to feed gasoline into the motor, so too do all other types of energy-generating devices generate excess heat. Since solar power grids cannot use the same radiators and water cooling fixtures as an internal combustion engine, it seemed for awhile like the only solution was to cool the surrounding grids to a lower temperature. With a three-dimensional invention from V3Solar, however, new grids are capable of turning as they go in order to get the same quantity of energy while exposing circuits and platforms to shade that cools them down. In fact, the self-rotating platforms have a twenty percent better energy capture rate due to the lack of a need to provide a cooling agent. This alone could lower the cost of a solar grid below the point of burning fossil fuels.
Generating Power Amidst Low Sun
The traditional means of generating solar power comes from tiny cells created out of silicon. The same metal used in computer parts, silicon may be challenged in the near future by titanium, since a thin film of titanium dioxide provides better energy absorption when used in tandem with a dye that holds light energy. The main advantage of dye-based titanium solar grids comes in their use during cloud cover, since they can snap up the light photons that break through a thick cloud much more efficiently than their silicon companions, to the tune of about fifteen percent.
Print It Out
Three-dimensional printers have become one of the newest technology crazes, but their application in the green revolution may blow everything else out of the water. An MIT team has managed to print solar cells on 3D printers using compressed vapor instead of liquids, which will create a more affordable and compact cell on nearly any material. The result? With 3D printers becoming more affordable, it may be possible to print out the solar grid on a film no thicker than a tissue, hook up wiring, and begin to collect power from anywhere on Earth.