The solar industry experienced a fairly challenging year in 2017. Solar stock prices overall have experienced fairly sharp drops amid falling panel prices and regulatory uncertainties according to Forbes magazine.
Internationally, the solar industry faced a global decline in demand in 2017. This was primarily due to a decline in solar installations in China. A modest decline in installations was also experienced across the United States. These declines have occurred despite sharp drops in the costs associated with solar panels in both countries, and elsewhere around the world.
Despite these obstacles over the course of the past 12 months, innovation and exploration continues at a rapid pace. There continues to be exciting new advancements in solar energy and ongoing research at this juncture in time.
As a result of these developments and compelling new research, the small downturn in installations is expected to reverse quickly. The slight decrease in installations was not universal, however. There are a number of locations across the United States, and elsewhere in the world, that have continued to see solar expand throughout 2017 and now into 2018.
Let’s explore the latest developments in the solar industry that are expected to drive new growth.
Solar Thin Film
One of the more interesting advancements in solar technologies is the development and deployment of solar thin film technology. This technology allows for the "printing" of solar film in rolls. These rolls can be utilized for more efficient installation, including integration with roofing materials that can be utilized on commercial, residential, and industrial buildings.
Another recent development is an electricity generating coating that can be applied to windows. This technology permits a window to remain "see-through" but also converts sunshine into energy. In reality, these so-called solar windows, and the applied coating, consist of the smallest functional solar cells on the market today. One solar cell utilized in this technology measures about the size of a quarter of a grain of rice, and these ultrasmall cells form groups or arrays. Sunlight that passes through the arrays produce an electrical charge, which is harvested by very fine wires (thinner than a human hair) and shuttles power to a larger output wire.
Although at first glance, a solar balloon may be mistaken for a hot air balloon, it's in fact anything but. A solar balloon represents new technology that harvests solar power via an array of silvery balloons. The large, plastic balloons concentrate solar energy and then direct it onto solar cells. This particular technology utilizes readily available, and relatively inexpensive, component parts.
The S-5! SolarFoot represents a welcome innovation in the solar industry. The S-5! SolarFoot is a cost-effective pedestal designed for the L-Foot attachment of a rail mounted solar photovoltaic (or solar PV) panel for metal roofs. This innovative product expands the scope of the market for rooftop PV cells. The S-5! SolarFoot allows for direct attachment to a roof or deck. The S-5! SolarFoot is the brainchild of a dedicated team of experienced industry professionals with strong backgrounds in everything from research and development, to engineering and manufacturing. The S-5! SolarFoot is available through a network of distributors located worldwide, including RapidMaterials.
Nanotechnology also plays a role in today’s technology advancements in solar. Nanowires are placed on a carbon-nanotube fabric. The nanowires are capable of absorbing more solar energy than is possible with more traditionally utilized silicon. Nanowires appear to be positioned to allow for more efficient energy harvesting. Because of the appearance of nanowires on a carbon-nanotube fabric, the technology is being called "hairy solar" in some quarters.
The Untapped Light Spectrum
Looking into the future, research is underway in hopes of tapping into more of the light spectrum. At the present time, energy harvested via solar panels is drawn entirely from the visible light spectrum. There remains a notable amount of the light spectrum that is untapped. Research is underway to utilize alternate materials as a means of capturing energy from some of the infrared spectrum and turning it into electricity. Vanadium and titanium are currently being investigated as possible materials that could accomplish this objective in the future.
Jessica Kane writes for Advance Online, a leading provider of web-based OSHA, DOT, and HAZWOPER training.