Solar technology is rapidly advancing, with new innovations constantly being developed. Micro-inverters and ‘hairy’ solar panels could greatly increase the efficiency of solar PV systems, and there are even plans to locate solar stations in space to capture the maximum amount of light possible.
Solar panels rely on light to produce electricity, meaning that their greatest enemy is shade. Usually, a number of solar panels are connected together to one inverter which feeds the electricity into your home supply. This means that if one panel is affected by shade, all the other panels connected to it are also affected. Micro-inverters get around this problem as each panel has its own dedicated inverter to control the flow of electricity. In this case, if some panels are shaded the others will continue producing electricity at their maximum capacity.
Hairy solar panels
Conventional solar panels have a relatively flat surface and can only absorb light falling on the panels from certain angles. By adding thin, hairy protrusions on the surface of the panels, Caltech have increased the amount of light the panels can absorb, collecting up to 96% of the light reaching the panels. These panels are still in development and only a few square centimeters have been produced, but if successful this technology could greatly increase the efficiency of solar cells.
Solar panels in space
On the Earth’s surface solar panels are subject to the same weather as we are. Cloudy days, mist, fog and pollution all decrease the amount of light they receive. Up in space, however, they could have a clear view of the sun and Japanese scientists are hoping to make this a reality within the next couple of decades. The energy would then be transmitted back down to Earth using either lasers or microwaves, which can travel through the atmosphere much more easily than visible light.