By Kris Walker
Solar power could one day become a major source of energy and a way of life. Today, however, it only represents less than 1% of the world's energy.
For this to improve there needs to be advancements in solar technology and its energy efficiency. With the world record of converting sunlight into electricity being recently broken to 44%, the evidence is showing that technology is improving.
Here are five different technologies that could help revolutionize solar energy:
The flexibility of Graphene is just one of the many features that could benefit solar power.
1) Graphene Paint to Power our Homes
Often cited as a 'wonder material', graphene was discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov when they separated carbon layers; isolating the one atom thick material from graphite using nothing but sticky tape.
Graphene and solar panel manufacturing can go hand in hand with regards to lightweight, flexible solar panels. This is a big difference from the more rugged silicon solar panels; however, don't write them off just yet as traditional silicon solar panels have a much greater efficiency.
Scientists from the University of Manchester combined graphene with dichalcogenides: a transition metal that is sandwiched between two out layers of graphene. Sprinkle some gold particles and 30% quantum efficiency can be achieved. With graphene acting as a highly conductive material, the TMDC can act as a sensitive light absorber and it has been found that the light absorption characteristic can be increased with the added combination of gold particles.
With this in mind, this technology has the potential to coat entire buildings that could generate enough electricity to power buildings. It also has the ability to change colour.
Double optimal orthogonal-offset panel arrays allow optimal efficiency.
2) 3D Photovoltaic Leaves
A recent development has taken significant strides in solar panel installations via an innovative 3d arrangement from ANU (Australian National University). An important factor must be considered with solar panel manufacture: the pursuit of the optimum arrangement of solar panels is of critical importance in achieving robust solar panel constructions.
The team at ANU produced a solar system whereby 3D solar cells are arranged as double-layer orthogonal-offset panel arrays that enable optimal efficiency; 'side by side panels' that can be moved making the vents arbitrarily large.
This technology could be used for commercial purposes with each 'solar tree' generating around 20-40kWh of electricity a day.
However, the only potential drawback with this would be where to position such a system outside houses and buildings (but there is a vision at hand for this too).
Building 'solar parks' on the outskirts of cities could become the norm and instead of powering just homes; it could power cities.
Quantum dots currently have an 8% efficiency but has the potential to reach 33.7%.
3) Quantum Dots
With the newly touted world record of 44% solar efficiency, there are still questions based around the cost of installation amongst solar cell construction. In fact, cheaper solar cells (which in other words represent the more commercial solar cells) only have efficiencies at around 10-20%.
One option for improving this is to create a highly efficient solar cell for a low cost and one potential method would be using dye molecules. Through attaching dye molecules to titanium dioxide, an electric current can be created through the absorption of photons and the release of electrons.
Using quantum dots (which are nanoparticles with unique features) can allow a process called "multiple exciton efficiency" which allows more electrons to be released per photon. Currently this process can reach 9% efficiency, however; researchers believe that they could achieve 33.7%, which would make this technology very appealing to the commercial sector.
Double layer polymer solar cells can absorb more light than a single layer cell.
4) Smartphone Technology
With smartphone technology advancing at an accelerating rate so do consumer gripes. A major one would be battery life with some smartphones lasting around a day.
Researchers at UCLA designed a two layer solar film, which can be applied to sunroofs, windows or, most notably, smartphones.
The photovoltaic cell uses two thin polymer solar cells, which can absorb more light than a single layer making them more efficient.
The polymer cells are constructed from a photoactive plastic including an innovative infrared-sensitive polymer, which can absorb up to 80% of infrared light.
The possibilities of having a smartphone that is powered by solar energy could be endless for designers, manufacturers and the user.
100 square foot of 'solar walk' will power the LED walklights on campus.
5) Solar Walk
Reliance on energy from the sun could become more abundant in the future and the George Washington University Virginia Science and Technology Campus have recently unveiled the world's first 100 square foot solar walkway.
With a combined average of a 400Wp capacity, the walkway will generate enough energy to power 450 LED pathway lights.
The panels are designed by Spanish company Onyx and are made to be durable enough to walk over.
Currently solar energy represents 1% of the world's energy.
The list could be endless with potential technologies out there that could revolutionize solar power to bring that 1% up. If you know of any other technologies that can directly benefit the solar industry please feel free to comment below.
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Further Reading: University of Manchester, ANU, George Washington University, UCLA, Fraunhoffer, AZoCleantech, AZoNano, Forbes.
Image Credit: Photos.com, University of Manchester, ANU, George Washington University, UCLA.