In part 1 of this blog looked at the need for innovations in the field of solar energy and elaborated on Thin-film Solar Panels, Transparent Solar Panels and Perovskite Cells. Read on to find out how Mirrors, Solar Fabrics and Solar Thermal Fuels can revolutionize the way we capture and use solar energy.
A solar mirror works very differently as compared to a PV panel that absorbs solar energy directly. Concentrated Solar-Thermal Power (CSP) technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver. The energy from the concentrated sunlight then heats a high-temperature fluid in the receiver.
This thermal energy can be employed to spin a turbine or power an engine to generate electricity. CSP plants are generally used for utility-scale projects — like water desalination, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, chemical production, and mineral processing — and can be configured in different ways.
Some types of CSP systems include:
– Power Tower Systems that set up mirrors around a central tower that acts as the receiver.
– Linear Systems usually have rows of mirrors that focus sunlight onto parallel tube receivers positioned above them.
– Single Dish/Engine Systems can produce 5 to 25 kilowatts of power per dish and can be used in diverse applications.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is among a few examples of CSP plants in the US. Spread across 3,500 acres of federal land in California’s Mojave Desert, the Ivanpah facility is a 392-megawatt solar generation plant with the capacity to supply clean, sustainable power to over 100,000 American homes.
Solar Fabric products are made of fabric with embedded photovoltaic (PV) cells, which generate energy when exposed to light.
Traditional silicon-based solar cells are costly to manufacture, rigid and fragile. But thin-film cells and organic-polymer based cells can be produced quickly and cheaply and are also flexible enough to be stitched onto fabric.
Solar fabrics can be used in the creation of next-generation wearable functional clothing. For example, a 30-year-old Spanish engineer has developed a way to integrate solar cells into textiles, paving the way for cheap energy generation through flexible materials such as awnings or parasols. Results show that these novel solar textiles hold potential applications in the sphere of wearable self-powered portable electronics. Not just that, with the new textile-based solar cells developed by Fraunhofer researchers, semi-trailer trucks could soon be producing the electricity needed to power cooling systems or other onboard equipment.
Textile-based solar cells could very soon be adding a whole new dimension to photovoltaics, complementing the use of conventional silicon-based solar cells.
Solar Thermal Fuel
Simply put, Solar Thermal Fuel is like bottling up solar energy for use at a later point in time. Solar Thermal Fuel is a material that absorbs solar energy from the sun, stores it for an indefinite period and releases it as heat when triggered on demand. The solar energy can be stored in an uncharged state at room temperature, reportedly for up to 18 years. But when the fuel passes through light, the molecules transition to their normal charged state, converting and releasing the stored solar energy in the form of heat without emitting any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. The fuel can be used as a liquid or a thin film, making it portable and completely renewable.
The fuel can quickly go from 21° C to 84° C, releasing enough thermal energy to heat a house or an office. It is used best in cases where repeated on-demand heat is required, like heating appliances, such as water heaters, dishwashers and clothes dryers, to name a few. Meanwhile, the low-temperature heat can be used for cooking, sterilization, bleaching, distillation and other commercial operations, which account for about 7% of all consumption in the European Union, according to Moth-Poulsen.
With so many new technologies harnessing the power of the sun to produce clean, green energy, the future of solar energy looks bright and promising! We just can’t wait to see where it takes us.