Looking into the Future of Solar Power Technologies: 5 of the Best Developments from 2020

Innovation in solar power technologies is set to bring down the cost and increase the efficiency of solar energy, driving adoption to meet renewable energy goals.

Laura Rodríguez

24 Nov, 20

Innovation in solar power technologies is set to bring down the cost and increase the efficiency of solar energy, driving adoption to meet renewable energy goals.

We can all agree that 2020 has been quite the year. But, in the solar energy sector, there’s been no shortage of developments. We’ve seen renewable energy deployments around the world accelerate and legacy silicon-based technologies reach their maximum efficiency.

In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy capacity additions are on track to rise by a record 10% in 2021, thanks to continued cost declines and policy support.

5 of the best solar power technologies of 2020

Currently, around 90% of the current solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations are based on crystalline silicon, with the remainder using layered thin-film technologies such as copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe). Thin-film solar power technologies have become increasingly efficient, but they’ve not been able to compete with silicon on price. The cost of producing electricity from silicon-based solar panels has dropped by more than 80% in the past decade, making them the default choice for homes and businesses.

But, as silicon technologies have reached their limits, the industry is looking for alternatives to advance the adoption of solar power generation. We’ve seen developments this year that’ll likely drive growth in the solar energy sector in the years to come. Here are 5 of the best solar power technologies.

Perovskite crystal coated panels

Perovskite is a lightweight calcium titanium oxide mineral, as well as a group of compounds that have the same type of crystal structure. Research has found that synthetic perovskite crystals are both more efficient and cheaper to produce than crystalline silicon, making them an exciting alternative for solar panel technology.

In fact, rather than displacing silicon, perovskite can be used to enhance it.

Oxford PV, a company spun out of Oxford University in the UK, is layering perovskite crystals over silicon to increase the conversion of sunlight into energy. While the efficiency of silicon PV cells has maxed out around 22%, Oxford PV’s layered cell has reached 27.3%. This increase in efficiency is key for the growth of renewable energy, as countries look for cost-effective ways to tackle climate change. Oxford PV plans to start selling perovskite solar panels in 2021 and several other start-ups are also developing products too.

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

Large installations of floating photovoltaic panels generate high volumes of electricity at a lower cost than land-based solar farms. Plus, they have the advantage of not using land or requiring installation on buildings.

High temperatures reduce solar panel conversion rates, but research shows that the cooling effect of the surrounding water allows floating panels to produce up to 10% more electricity and slows module degradation. Floating PV systems are faster to install than land-based installations, and have been shown to reduce water evaporation while improving water quality.

A combination of falling costs, successful pilot projects showing the benefits of the technology, government support, and investor interest is now driving the rollout of commercial-scale installations. Global installations of floating solar capacity could rise from around 2GW currently to as much as 400GW, or around the same amount as the total solar capacity installed in the world up to 2017, according to the World Bank.

Building-integrated photovoltaics

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.

Solar cell fabrics

We’re seeing even more developments, such as high-efficiency III-V materials that can be used on car rooftops and solar fabrics that can be used in household furnishings and clothing.

With new technologies driving the efficiency of solar deployments, and carbon emissions targets providing an impetus for the growth in renewables, RatedPower can help your company design and optimize PV installations.  If you are interested in knowing more about what we do, you should definitely dive deep in our website and request a demo of pvDesign.

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Laura Rodríguez

Business developer

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