The Future Is Now: Current and Upcoming Solar Energy Innovations

The Future Is Now: Current and Upcoming Solar Energy Innovations

Get excited! The future of solar is encompassing and fun. 

According to Forbes, “Of all renewable energy generation, solar PV is expected to grow the fastest from now to 2050.” 

Solar installation applications are flowing into grid interconnection queues all over the United States, as the capacity of installed US solar projects is estimated to more than double over the course of the next 5 years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics also estimates that Solar PV Installer will be the fastest-growing job between now and 2028. 

Estimates for global PV growth are expected to more than triple by 2050, with the US/North America responsible for about 20% of total new installations. 

Graph from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)'s report on the Future of Photovoltaics

Pairing solar systems with energy storage is also starting to gain traction as battery and generator storage systems become more readily available in the market. 

Most major electricity grid studies show solar expanding significantly (even without specific mandates) as costs decline and societies use their values to drive their energy choices. These study results are being validated in real life as competitive electricity grids find their interconnection queues full of solar projects and new announcements for incentives are increasingly frequent.   As an added bonus, the cost of going solar has been trending down as popularity increases. 

While the above is a practical projection for how solar will grow on our roofs and utilities in the upcoming years, there are also some fun iterations that we share below as to what the solar of the future could look like! 

When considering the future of the industry, it is clear that solar no longer requires large parcels of land or roof space, nor does it need to look boring. The following technologies will revolutionize the way we think about not just photovoltaics, but energy production in general: 

A comparison of a standard solar panel installation (L) and solar skins on top (R). Image Credits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Floating Solar Farms (aka ‘Floatovoltaics’)

“Floatovoltaics” are photovoltaic solar power systems created for floating on reservoirs, dams, and other water bodies. 

Floating solar farms can generate huge amounts of electricity without using valuable land or real estate. In 2008, the first commercial 175 kWh floating panel system was installed in California at the Far Niente winery in Napa Valley.  

BIPV Solar Technology

Building-integrated photovoltaics, as the name suggests, seamlessly blend into building architecture in the form of roofs, canopies, curtain walls, facades, and skylight systems. Unlike traditional solar PV panels, BIPV can be aesthetically indistinguishable from a building’s original design. 

BIPV technology, when used on the building’s facades, atrium, terrace floor, and canopies, provides all the same benefits as roof top solar, plus high thermal and sound insulation, and decreased O&M costs. 

Solar Skins

Solar skins are a novel PV technology to integrate custom designs into solar panel systems. The solar skin technology is similar to the ad wraps displayed on bus windows.  

Solar Fabric

Imagine producing photovoltaic power while on the move through your own clothing. 

Researchers are developing solar fabrics with a vision of including solar power in each fiber. These solar filaments can be embedded into your t-shirts, winter coats, or any other clothing to help you keep warmer, power your phone, and provide energy for other needs while you’re on the go. 

Photovoltaic Solar Noise Barriers (PVNB)

Highway traffic noise in the US is a concern to residents lining highway corridors. To overcome this issue, 48 states have built nearly 3,000 miles of traffic noise barriers. Noise barriers were always constructed with the single aim of designing cost-effective barriers that efficiently perform noise abatement functions, but what if we were to adorn these barriers with Photovoltaics? 

Given the widespread use of noise barriers in the US, the potential of producing solar energy from these is likely to be around 400-gigawatt hours (GWh) annually. The US Department of Transportation is currently looking into this option. 

Lumos solar panels installed as the front entrance of Interurban Hotel in Tukwila, WA.

While solar production has already come a long way since it was first implemented, we still have much progress and development to look forward to in the future! Solterra is focused on roof and ground-mount solar for homes and businesses as well as battery backup, generators, and EV charging. To learn how to start your future with solar, call/text us at 206-462-1103, email us at [email protected], or get a free quote here. 

Author Bio:

 

 

 

Nate Brothers is a Solterra Solar Design Consultant and a passionate advocate for the environment. He earned a degree in Environmental Sustainability from Colorado Mountain College where he focused on understanding and implementing critical solutions for messy situations like climate change. Originally from Kansas, Nate fell in love with open spaces at an early age. He has spent his adult life chasing back country powder stashes and the robust white water of the great American west. 

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