The primary reason that solar power is not in more widespread use is because it is more expensive to manufacture than coal. Once that dynamic changes, the world will be on the path to cleaner, more affordable energy consumption. Every day, scientists use new materials, approaches, research and manufacturing methods to try to forge a new pathway into a more cost efficient energy landscape. Just as the invention of coal helped bring about the Industrial Revolution, new approaches to reducing the cost of solar energy without compromising its performance will bring the new Clean Energy Revolution.
Currently, costs associated with manufacturing solar cells makes their integration into the power grid anywhere from 3 to 6 times more expensive than current electricity prices. However, scientists are increasing the prospects for improving the efficiency of using solar energy in many innovative ways. For example, there are new developments in nanotechnology in the form of tiny nanocrystals that are manufactured from selenium and lead. These tiny crystals increase the chance of boosting electric current output at a cost efficient rate and cost far less than the silicon that is currently being used to manufacture commercial solar cells.
Nanotechnology is also being used to develop energy storage in the form of tiny molecules called azobenzene. These manmade molecules have the uncanny ability to store converted solar energy in a way that resembles the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries. It is a material that not only stores energy, but also converts it. It is cheap, does not degrade and is robust.
One such strategy being developed to reduce the cost of solar energy, involves the use of tiny cylinders that could comprise completely new types of solar cells. Karen Gleason, a professor at MIT, as come up with a way to print solar cells on virtually anything solid. Her process involves using vapor and low temperatures to create a printed paper cell, as opposed to the currently-used, expensive high temperature solutions that degrade substrate materials. Gleason's invention is extremely durable and can be repeatedly folded and unfolded without performance loss. Another professor, Gan Chen, has devised use for micro solar thermal panels that use thermoelectric generators that work even on overcast days. The materials used to make Chen's panels are cost effective and easily attainable.
Another approach being taken to reduce the cost of solar energy is the utilization of robotics in the manufacture of solar cells. A large portion of solar cell manufacturing involves the use of steel. Using robotics has the potential to cut the amount of steel usage by up to 50%. Flat solar arrays are used to follow the sun, thereby boosting the electricity production in a power plant by up to 45%. This method is astronomically expensive however. One battery powered robot could do the same job and cut manufacturing costs tremendously.
Each week, more and more inventions are placed on the table that have the potential to inch humankind toward widespread use of more sustainable technologies in infrastructure, energy and water.
Sam Jones the author writes about a variety environmental issues. One that he has kept a close eye on the developments within the home solar panels industry and information related to home solar panels
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