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The Future of Solar Energy
Solar panels have been garnering a lot of publicity in recent months (and not always for positive reasons). Yet the solar panel as we know it may already be an obsolete technology. Just as people are getting used to seeing homes in their neighborhood with rooftops covered with the traditional looking solar panel, new technologies are being developed that will make solar power both more feasible and more invisible. These innovations range from practical advantages that are now becoming commercially available to more exotic long term innovations that inspire the imagination.
Solar Window Film
One of these areas of innovation is the development of photovoltaic film that can be applied to windows. The thin photovoltaic solar film can be coated on windows thus turning traditional windows into an electricity generating source of solar power. There are a number of companies focused on innovating this solar window film including Pythagoras Solar, Ensol, New Energy Technologies, 3M. The real game changing application for this technology is commercial office buildings with enormous window coverage. Imagine how much energy could be generated in New York City or Chicago if all the office buildings with glass window sides were all covered with solar film.
While solar window film has the potential to have enormous impact generating electricity for office buildings, for single family residences, solar shingles might be one of the most important innovations ever for residential solar power. Some communities have objected to how “ugly” traditional solar panels are when posted in public locations such as utility poles.
Less aesthetically intrusive than the traditional solar panels, solar shingles are probably the residential solar technology of the future. They blend in well with the aesthetic design of most homes. In fact, unlike the solar panels, they blend in seamlessly with most modern building materials. While they are currently more expensive than traditional solar panels, as with any new innovation in technology, the cost is bound to decrease over time as the technology advances.
Space-based Solar Power (SBSP)
On the more exotic, long term tip comes space-based solar power. Usually space based solar power is based on the concept of satellites collecting the solar light and then transporting it back to earth as the graphic above shows. Researchers estimated the amount of space based solar power available is billions of times more than from the surface of our planet. The surface of planet earth only captures 1 part in 2.3 billion of the solar energy generated by the sun. With these numbers, space based solar power can continually generate enough electricity to power all the energy needs of our planet. There are a huge number of advantages to space based solar power including no greenhouse gas emissions and no limited availability of the resource. One of the only disadvantages is the rather hefty development cost of getting this technology from the plausible theory stage to the practical reality stage. One of the best resources for information on space-based solar power is the National Space Society website.
Luna Ring Solar Power
One specific design application of space based solar power is the Luna Ring concept designed and publicized by the Shimizu Corporation of Japan. Using the basic concept of SBSP of capturing the solar energy in space and then transporting it back to earth, Shimizu focuses on using the moon as the base for a ring of solar cells that will capture energy. Their plan is to then transmit that captured energy back to earth using microwaves. This video is very interesting and informative:
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