Solar Power Technologies that rocked it in 2022
28 Oct, 21 / UPDATED 14 Nov, 22
The global solar energy market has transformed in the past few years, doubling in size between 2018 to 2021 and surpassing the 1TW mark in 2022.
Falling costs have brought solar into parity with fossil fuel plants in many countries and the growing impetus towards carbon emissions reduction is driving governments and businesses to invest in solar capacity.
While it took a decade for solar to reach 1TW, SolarPower Europe expects capacity to double to 2.3TW by 2025. In the US alone, the market could reach $22.9 billion in the next three years.
So, what are the trends and technologies that will support this growth?
Green hydrogen technology
2022 saw a major rise in interest in green hydrogen. The concept has sparked the interest of companies across the world and gained popularity throughout the year.
In the UK, major companies like Octopus Energy and RES are planning to invest significantly in the development of green hydrogen production sites across the country. The aim of these sites is “to accelerate the decarbonization of industrial business”. Overall, the project, and similar ones too, aims to help the UK become more independent when it comes to its energy.
In Switzerland and Canada, innovative ways to produce green hydrogen. Their electrolysis technology means they can produce green hydrogen from any source of water, impressively including saltwater. EBH2 systems partnered with silicon solutions company HPQ and they’re in the process of producing green silicon materials.
One of the arguments limiting solar adoption has been the need for backup generation to cover periods when solar and wind generation is lower than consumption. This has often been provided by natural gas or coal-fired plants. However, falling costs for battery storage systems have increased the number of projects installing hybrid solar and storage solutions, with batteries providing backup from excess solar power generated in peak sunlight periods.
Batteries are also increasingly being used as grid assets to increase the reliability and resiliency of electricity transmission and distribution and the market for long-duration batteries for utility-scale renewable integration could grow by at least 30% into 2023, according to accounting firm BDO Global.
This may help to enable the grid to maintain stability and manage higher renewable generation, which in some countries has limited the amount of new generation that grid operators have been able to accept.
Check out how to hybridize your PV plant with pvDesign.
Maximizing the use of agricultural land by installing solar panels over crops is a small but growing segment of the solar market. Solar power generation can enable farms to become self-sustaining, and the shading from solar panels can increase crop yields and decrease water consumption by reducing evaporation.
Several new projects in Europe have got underway this year, including:
A joint venture between solar services provider Greencells and Italian developer Renewable Consulting
German renewables group BayWa r.e. expanding its project in the Netherlands
Enel Green Power trialing pilot plants in southern Europe
Sapiens Energía’s projects in Spain to study the growth of tropical fruit under solar installations.
Outside Europe, there are also projects underway in Japan, South Korea, and the US.
Their bold goals have seen them supercharge their energy development as they aim to quadruple their renewable energy capacity by 2030. During the first 9 months of this year, the country added 8.8GW of solar energy. Going into 2022, India will be faced with the biggest demand for energy across the globe, with its huge uptake in industrialization, as well as increasing economy and population.
Here are the top developments that are likely to drive growth in the solar energy sector in the years to come.
Insolight panel coating
Swiss start-up Insolight has developed a technology that uses hexagonal lenses in the protective glass that coats solar panels to concentrate light and produce more energy. The technology has reached an efficiency of 30%, which translates to 40% more earnings for solar developers.
Insolight received funding over the summer to start manufacturing. The company plans to sell its first modules to the agriculture sector, where they can be installed in fields and on rooftops, including greenhouses. Its translucent modules allow light to filter through to crops below and protect them from extreme weather conditions, avoiding competition for land use between agriculture and solar energy.
Heterojunction technologies or SmartWire
Heterojunction technology (HJT) applies layers of thin-film silicon on both sides of a silicon solar cell. The layers increase the light conversion and can bring the efficiency of the silicon cell up to 25%.
The technology itself is not new, but the expiration of patents is allowing more manufacturers to start developing it with increased efficiencies. And, deployments are expected to grow over the coming years.
Floating solar farms
Floating PV installations will play a key role in enabling countries with limited available land mass to meet their net-zero pledges. Installing solar energy systems on the water can leave land free for agricultural activity
Large-scale floating solar farms are taking off in Asia, powering millions of homes from rivers and lakes. The largest farms now under construction, such as in Indonesia and South Korea, will have capacities above 2GW — the size of a large natural gas, coal, or nuclear plant.
Research shows that installing floating PV panels on just 10% of the world’s hydropower reservoirs could add 4TW of electricity generation — equivalent to the total fossil fuel capacity worldwide.
Floating solar panels bring several additional benefits, such as higher efficiency than land-based panels from the cooling effect of the water; reduced evaporation to preserve water for hydroelectricity, irrigation, and drinking; less shading on panels; reduced interconnection costs, and less civil works required.
The European Union’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive requires all new buildings in the region to be “nearly zero-energy” by the end of 2020. And, that the existing building stock that is energy inefficient, be improved in the coming decades.
To meet those targets, member states are turning to solar technologies to increase the proportion of clean energy that buildings consume. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) extend beyond rooftop-mounted solar panels to incorporate photovoltaic properties into the building materials themselves.
This means roof tiles, window glass, facades, and shades all generate electricity to supply the building. BIPVs actually become part of the architecture, seamlessly blending into the building design and eliminating the need for a separate mounted solar panel system.
Of the different types of BIPVs, solar glass is of particular interest in hot climates where it is effective in reducing the amount of heat penetrating the windows, in turn reducing energy consumption for air conditioning. Demand is only set to grow as urban populations increase around the world and climate change lifts temperatures.
Perovskite solar photovoltaic (PV) cells have shown promise in providing an alternative to silicon-based cells, which have dominated the market for decades but are costly and highly energy intensive to produce.
Solar equipment manufacturers are also developing cell and module technologies that provide a higher conversion efficiency. N-type Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC), tunnel oxide passivated contact (Topcon), and heterojunction (HJT) technologies are pushing the theoretical efficiency limits of silicon PV cells and taking a growing share of the market.
However, one of the barriers to mass-market adoption has been that previous versions of the technology have not been able to produce durable cells capable of generating electricity for multiple years before needing to be replaced.
Researchers at Princeton University have developed a perovskite device that can maintain high performance for around 30 years, which is considerably longer than the industry standard of 20 years for silicon and thin-film cells.
Continued adoption of solar PV as a mainstream energy source is driving development work that is increasing the durability and reliability of the technology, making it more attractive to investors and utilities.
Earlier types of solar technologies were not as robust or effective as they needed to be as a viable replacement for well-established fossil fuel generation. But solar panels are now lasting well beyond their previous lifespans as the technology has become more reliable to meet the market’s needs. Manufacturers are also developing more rugged equipment that is designed to meet harsh environmental conditions and maximize the areas where solar can be installed.
The cost of installing utility-scale solar fell by more than 80% between 2010 and 2020, and while supply chain constraints saw costs rise in 2021, the solar industry’s evolution will continue to bring down installation costs.
An increase in government subsidies such as tax credits in various countries, declining prices for storage batteries, and improvements in solar and battery technologies will make hybrid systems more cost-effective. Tariffs on imports of solar equipment from China and policies to develop a domestic supply chain in the US will benefit US solar manufacturers.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) revised its forecast renewable capacity additions by 8% for 2022 and 2023, in response to strong policy support in China, the European Union, and Latin America. Net renewable capacity additions are expected to surpass the 300 GW mark for the first time in 2022, with solar PV accounting for 190GW, up by 25% from 2021. Utility-scale projects are expected to account for almost two-thirds of that solar expansion, driven by policy support. The IEA expects solar PV to break another record in 2023, approaching 200GW.
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