Here at Community Energy Development Co-operative we’re investing in solar energy to generate clean, green electricity for Ontario. Through 20-year contracts we sell this electricity to the grid, powering homes and businesses across the province, and using the profits to deliver a return on investment for our members. It’s pretty amazing stuff!
Did you know that solar power innovation goes way beyond the roof-mounted panels and fields of solar trackers we install? It’s an amazing technology, and people are pushing the limits of what we do with energy from the sun. Here are 5 cool examples.
This first one isn’t too far a leap – thin films have been in use since the 1970s when solar calculators came on the market – but it is only recently that modules have grown in size so they can be used in building installations. Thin film solar uses less material and weighs less, so it can be used in a wider variety of applications, and with less concern for mounting and electronic hardware. Unfortunately, thin film remains less efficient than conventional solar cells, but every year it’s improving!
Unlike our solar photovoltaic installations, which use light to move electrons and generate electricity, solar thermal collectors use the sun’s energy to heat a fluid like water either to use directly or to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Heating your pool, drying crops, or cooking can all be achieved with solar thermal technology, skipping the process of converting solar power to electricity, then to heat through an appliance. When done right, solar thermal energy is one of the most efficient uses of solar power.
One of the benefits of using solar power is that you take advantage of the underutilized space on your roof to generate electricity. Now imagine if we turned every road into a solar generator! Solar Roadways is a system of engineered glass hexagonal panels that can be laid together like patio stones to create a roadway. Heating elements keep them free from snow and ice, and LED lights are used to generate lines – no more plowing, salting, or painting. The technology is being piloted on Route 66 before the end of the year.
While we’re on the subject of better utilizing space in our cities, why not look to our windows? New transparent coatings can now turn any piece of glass into a solar cell. Instead of opaque cells collecting visible rays of light, these coatings are made up of salts that absorb ultraviolet and infrared light, redirecting it to the edge of the glass where it impacts conventional cells and is converted to electricity. Wouldn’t it be incredible if every window on our skyscrapers was generating electricity without impeding our view?
3D printing of plastic parts has found its way into the home, allowing anyone to create a model of whatever their heart desires. Now solar power is following suit with solar ink. By either spraying or screening the ink onto a roll of plastic, solar ink can be used to create lightweight, flexible, low cost solar panels. Just like 3D printing of plastic, the ability to “print” solar panels means they can be used almost anywhere.
Those are a few of our favourite new solar technologies. Where else have you seen solar power being applied in new, interesting, or downright crazy ways? Let us know in the comments below.