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New and Exciting Solar Technologies for 2019

Solar Power is by far the most popular and most efficient renewable energy source out. Technological advances are constantly being made in hopes to save the Earth from the ever foreboding threat of global warming. Here is a list and description of the latest in solar powered technology.

Transform Ugly Solar Panels with Solar Skins

Solar Skin by Sistine Solar

A high percentage of homeowner associations consider solar panels to be an unsightly home addition and thus have become a major barrier for the solar industry. Sistine Solar, a design firm based in Boston, Massachusetts, has developed an efficient “solar skin” product that can match virtually any roof top appearance, making existing solar panels more aesthetically beautiful. The skins are made from a thin film, coated with extremely durable graphics and integrated onto high efficiency solar panels. The technology uses selective light filtration to simultaneously display an image and transmit sunlight to the underlying cells with a minimal energy loss efficiency.

Light Up the Night with Solar Powered Roads

2018 paved the way for many tests of an exciting new technology – solar powered roads. A few countries, including the U.S., China, Japan, France, and the Netherlands, have begun exploring different methods to safely and efficiently implement solar roads on a large scale. Most of them commonly feature technologies that will light up roadways and have thermal heating capacities to melt snow and ice during winter weather, but there’s a possibility that solar roads could even charge electric vehicles. The company Solar Roadways is the US-based frontrunner in the solar road race and is crowdsourcing funds to help move toward production.

Solar Roads are Nothing but Beneficial

Solar roads were designed so the glass panels could be installed on a variety of surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and playgrounds. These panels would not only pay for themselves, but would benefit both businesses and homeowners as the energy they generate could be used to power buildings. If installed nationwide, with over 30,000 sq miles of usable surfaces, solar powered roads would produce more energy than the entire country uses. 

Although glass, the tempered panels, made from recycled materials, offer a superior surface to traditional road making materials. The panels are around 1.5 centimeters thick and can withstand 124 ton trucks driving over them. And even though they’re glass, the surface isn’t slippery and will never get potholes. The panels are also embedded with LED lights so they’ll be able to show road markings and send up-to-date traffic messages.

The panels are wired so that faults can be detected by surrounding panels and be easily repaired. The power cables would be stored in trenches called “Cable Corridors” alongside the roads which would allow easy access by utility workers. Moreover, these corridors could be used to store fiber optic cables for high-speed internet.

There’s immense potential in this technology that would lead to a massive decrease in reliance on petroleum and fossil fuels, and would cut CO2 emissions by a considerable amount. In the U.S., tests have already been underway along Route 66 for a few years now.

Solar Cell Fabrics lets You Charge Your Phone while you Exercise

Coated in a conductive polymer material, this half-inch square of fabric contains an array of six rectangular solar cells. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)
Coated in a conductive polymer material, this half-inch square of fabric contains an array of six rectangular solar cells. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Since their inception, solar panels have largely been made from glass or plastic, both being materials that can be hard, brittle, and easily breakable. Since as early as 2001, scientists have tried to incorporate solar technologies into textiles but have only been successful with textiles such as stadium covers and carports. Recently, researchers Trisha Andrew and Marianne Fairbanks have figured out how to incorporate solar tech in ANY type of fabric.

How Solar Cell Fabrics Work

The latest solar textile technology combines two different lightweight and low-cost polymer fibers. The first polymer is coated with several chemical elements and compounds including zinc oxide, a photovoltaic material, which is then woven together with copper wire. This basically embeds the fiber with tiny solar cells.

The second fiber is made of copper-coated polytetrafluoroethylene strips woven with more copper wire. These materials can generate mechanical energy or electricity from friction.

As for battery storage, polyester yarn coated with nickel and carbon, and combined with polyurethane provides a flexible battery that keeps working even when repeatedly bent and folded.

While solar cell fabrics are still in the testing phase, researchers have successfully shown that the materials can produce power when integrating them into many different fabrics. Some exciting applications include self-warming gloves, solar charging curtains, and numerous field applications for backpacking, hunting, medical, or military purposes. Pretty soon your shirt could be powering your MP3 player while you jog.

Solar Water Purifiers give Clean Water to Everyone

Solar Water Purifier

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new device that can purify water when exposed to sunlight. It isn’t the first of it’s kind, but major strides have been made to increase efficiency. The new design is roughly half the size of a postage stamp, can utilize visible light frequencies, and only requires a few minutes to work it’s magic. Previous designs required hours of sun exposure and could only harness ultra-violet rays. As it improves, this tech would be great for backpackers, self-sustaining swimming pools purified without the use of chlorine, and places around the world where clean water isn’t readily available.

The experimental water purifier is a derived from the process for using solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, aka evaporation. But instead of splitting the two atoms, the new process oxidizes water to produce hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2. Even just a small amount will purify water as hydrogen peroxide disinfects water at a level of tens of parts per million, or about two tablespoons per 25 gallons.

Some changes in materials still need to be made to make the blend safe to drink. But the research team believes that one day soon, a person could pull out their lightweight solar purifier, pour in some H₂O, and produce enough hydrogen peroxide through the sun-activated process to turn any questionable water source into a drinkable oasis.

Each of us has the responsibility to be stewards of our world. Something as simple as sharing knowledge can have a huge impact.

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