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Future Technological Advancements in Solar Energy

Consumers receive a constant reminder of the high cost of fossil fuel energy sources when filling up an automobile with gasoline or paying for a delivery of oil to heat a home. Owners of homes and businesses look for ways to reduce energy costs by using affordable renewable energy sources, such as wind geothermal and solar energy. Technological advances in solar cells and other techniques move toward providing viable solar energy solutions for the average consumer.
  1. Plastic-Based Solar Cells

    • Most solar panel (module) manufacturers use silicone-based materials to produce solar cells. A solar panel has multiple photovoltaic cells soldered together to provide the total power output for the panel. University of California at Berkeley researchers, along with the U.S. Department of Energy, has developed a new type of photovoltaic cell that blends nanotechnology with plastic-based components. Nanotechnology involves working with matter at the atomic level.

      The process uses the technology of conducting plastics (polymers) -- discovered in 1977, which allows electrons to move through plastic, but had low efficiency. Recent developments have made the technology more promising. Researchers applied acid on the plastics, which improved efficiency by helping retain the material's ability to conduct electricity. The process prints electrodes on the plastic transistor -- a cheaper and faster technique. The effect results in a type of paint-on electronic system. This has the potential to eliminate costly machines currently used for solar cell production.

    Solar Updraft Tower

    • Sometimes called a solar chimney, the solar updraft tower consists of a solar thermal power system, placed in the center of a massive agricultural field or greenhouse -- from 1 mile to more than 4 miles in diameter. The field has a 3,000-foot convection tower in the center. The sun heats the air as it moves upward into a convection tower. The process of hot air channeling up and out the tower creates a draft, which drives the turbine. Black water-filled tubes located at the top of the tower allows for the storage of heat. This feature enables the tower to produce electricity even after sundown. The power of the system depends on the size of the collector space. A larger space allows for a greater volume of air stored inside the collection area. The chimney's height produces more pressure to produce a "stack effect" -- moving air in and out of the tower. One of the main advantages of a Solar Updraft Tower over concentrating solar power or photovoltaic systems lies in its ability to use diffused sunlight to heat the air.Therefore, the system produces energy on wet or cloudy days.

    Space-Based Solar Power

    • Space-based solar power entails capturing solar energy on satellites positioned in space. In space, solar energy has a more concentrated form. It is also available 24 hours a day because of the absence of atmosphere, which blocks the sun's radiation. The system converts the energy into low intensity microwave beams. The satellite transmits the energy to converters located on earth. As the costs of satellites decline, the technology will become more economical.

    Thin-film Solar Cell

    • Thin-film refers to the process that produces involve putting multiple layers of photovoltaic material, such as Amorphous Silicon, Cadmium Telluride or Copper Indium Diselenide on a substrate. The thin layers of materials range in thicknesses up to a few micrometer -- hence the name "thin film." A new technology, invented at the University of Oregon, uses a faster process of depositing absorbing materials, such as Copper Indium Diselenide, on the backing material. The new method use a continuous flow method. Researchers continue to work on improving the solar cell efficiency and producing solar cells on a massive scale.