Photo Voltaic (PV) Technology has come a long way from its inception about 60 years ago. The PV efficiency that was only 1% to begin with, has risen to almost 23%. When these figures are compared with an Internal Combustion engine, whose efficiency has stagnated at 15-18% after a century of research, the promise this technology holds can be appreciated. In fact, lab efficiencies of 46% have already been recorded for multi-junction solar cells.
In the future, the lower prices, efficiency improvements and other developments in PV technology will open up new avenues of application. Some of these are listed below:
Li-Fi or Light Fidelity refers to a wireless communication technology that uses light waves as information carrier. Li-Fi has been tested to be almost 100 times faster than some existing Wi-Fi set ups. Data transfer through Li-Fi has been recorded at a whopping figure of 224 Gigabits per second. Note that Li-Fi uses full electromagnetic spectrum where as Wi-Fi is only limited to radio waves.
It has been estimated that by the year 2018, the market for this technology would be worth 6 billion dollars. The biggest aid in establishing this technology can come from Solar panels. Scientists have already developed a PV panel that can double up as a Li-Fi receiver. This hybrid system could be an ideal solution for providing internet in rural areas, removing the need for costly transmission infrastructure.
Similarly, the company SunPartner has already developed a device called the Wysips CONNECT. This device can convert light waves into either electrical energy or data signals. It is essentially a thin transparent sheet that adheres to the phone screen. Not only it enables the smart phone to become Li-Fi enabled but can also charge it during the day, increasing its battery life by 15%.
Solar Panels are increasingly making inroads in the transport sector. Their application is not just limited to powering bus shelters or parking meters. As the auto industry shifts towards electric drive, solar panels are bound to increase not only on the roof of charging stations but also on the car itself. Car manufacturers like Ford have already developed cars with solar panels on the body.
Car makers are also looking into developing panels that seamlessly integrate with the car’s body making them aesthetically pleasing. For electric cars, the combination with PV technology is natural. It has been reported that on average cars remain stationary for 95% of the time. So in future cars parked in the open will have an advantage over those sitting smugly inside garages. During the working hours, car batteries will receive a top up through solar power. In fact with this technology the car does not need to be idle to produce electricity.
Other examples of sustainable transport already in existence using PV Technology are Solar powered catamaran (Turnaor), Solar powered airplane (Solar Impulse) and many satellites and automated motor vehicles (Mars Rovers) working outside our planet.
It has been proposed that automated solar powered boats should be used in the future to clear up the waste from the oceans.
Building Integrated Photo Voltaics or BIPV are becoming more visible in new constructions. Incorporating PV in the fabric of the building while in construction rather than retrofitting later helps to offset the extra cost of the panels. As thin-film and organic technologies become cheaper, most windows in the future will be coated with a transparent layer that is essentially a PV module. They will not only reduce solar heat load of the building but more importantly will also provide energy. Skyscrapers are notorious for their huge drain on energy resources. Through BIPV, they will be able to at least partially recover the energy they consume. Many such building are already in existence.
Solar shingles (Solar Roof slates) are already available in the market and are as easy to install as any “plug and play device”. Because of their seamless integration, they will help many listed buildings to adopt PV technology particularly in areas where an obtrusive outlook can be a problem for getting planning permission.
3D Printed Personal Energy Devices
With the advancement of technology, the energy use per capita has also increased. A huge portion of our energy use goes into personal entertainment/communication devices. Although many portable solar panels are available in the market that can charge laptops and phones, however with the advancement in organic PV technology, potential for many other products has increased. Consider for example PV beach rug that can be folded or rolled. So , next time while taking a dip, one can rest assured that on return the phone will be charged.
It should be noted commercial concerns like Nanosolar have developed printable semi-conductor ink. Similarly, amorphous silicon is also a material that is printable. As 3D printers become cheaper and more advanced, it is most likely that in the future, people will be printing their own devices to generate electricity.
PV with TEG
Research is being done to couple PV panel with thermo-electric generator (TEG). Although this technology is still being researched but it has two promising advantages. First, even in the most efficient PV panel only 23% of the energy is converted into electricity. Some of it is reflected but most of it turns into heat. If a TEG is attached at the back face of PV panel, it can convert that residual heat into electricity. Secondly, as the TEG in operation will remove the unwanted heat, this in effect reduces the panel temperature and increases the useful life of PV from 30 years to 50 years. This hybrid device would be most feasible in concentrated solar systems.
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