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Most innovative solar energy solutions

How we generate power has evolved over the last decade with steady global growth in renewable energy industry. More and more households are now switching to solar energy solutions to power their homes. In fact, according to a recent REN21 report, renewables provided more than 26% of the electricity generated worldwide by the end of 2019.

In Australia, renewable energy sources already provide up to 50% of the day time electricity on the power grid, mostly thanks to the growing number of rooftop solar installations across the national electricity market (NEM = QLD, VIC, NSW, SA, ACT). With much of that solar-generated power exported onto the grid, Australian consumers are leading the renewable energy revolution.

Rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) is leading the expansion of global renewable power capacity, accounting for 55% of renewable capacity additions. In Australia, one in five homes have installed rooftop solar, meaning more than 2 million properties are being powered by solar PV. There are also government solar rebates, where the solar PV owners receive payment for exporting generated energy to the electrical grid.

This has led to a considerable increase in solar energy generated into the Australian market, with 2 GW added across 2016 and 2017 and 4.5GW added in 2018 alone. This increase is driving a reduction in wholesale energy spot prices around the middle of the day and is evidenced by increasing volume of negative price events in 2019. The day time wholesale spot price decline will continue as more solar without battery backing is added to the marketplace.

Solar PV is just one of the many solar energy solutions we use to harness the sun’s inexhaustible power to generate electricity. Over the last few years, we’ve also seen incredible technological advancements in solar efficiency, distribution and solar energy storage to help migrate to renewable energy production.

Our sun is the oldest and most potent source of renewable energy on earth. It delivers more power in one hour than the whole planet needs in a year. Although we don’t have the technology to harness all of it yet, we see a lot of promising innovations. Here are our top 5 innovative solar energy solutions that maximise the clean energy potential of the sun.

No# 5 - Perovskite solar cells

Installing photovoltaic solar panels is the most common way to convert the sunlight into usable electricity. Recently, solar panel technology has seen leaps in innovation that can be game changers in how we embrace solar power. One major breakthrough in this arena is the use of perovskite solar cells.

Perovskite solar cells are third-generation solar cells considered to be more efficient at absorbing light than crystalline silicon - a common material used in standard solar PV cells. The structure of perovskite cells allows photo-generated electrons to move through extended distances without losing energy, enabling the cells to be high-charge carriers of energy. They absorb more light and therefore generate more power.

Perovskite cells can be produced by using processable solution inks, a process similar to printing newspapers. This means that they are based on human-made material and therefore can be produced at a lower cost, unlike crystalline silicon which has to be extracted from the earth and processed first before it can be used. The low-cost production translates to a lower cost for consumers who want to go green and take advantage of solar energy. Numerous studies are being conducted to ensure that the production of perovskite cells have the lowest environmental impact as possible.

No# 4 - Solar tracking

Another solar energy solution experiencing breakthroughs is solar tracking. Solar tracking technology directs solar panels and receivers to follow the movement of the sun to increase the production of electricity. It maximises exposure to the sun enabling solar panels to be 25-45% more productive.

Because they capture more power per panel, a commercial building that does not have enough roof space for fixed-tilt solar panels might use solar trackers to gather the amount of energy it needs.

Although solar trackers have been available in the market for some time, many improvements have been implemented in recent years to make the technology more efficient.

An example is the sunflower-inspired polymer invented by a team of scientists. Termed as SunBot or Sunflower-like Biomimetic Omni-directional Tracker, it can track the sun throughout the day. Currently, most solar cells are only able to capture 24% of the sunlight. According to reports, if SunBots are integrated into the materials of solar cells, they can boost this performance by up to 90%.

No# 3 - Better battery storage technology

The technology of stationary batteries is also experiencing groundbreaking innovations. While lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have dominated the battery market for many years, other promising alternatives are entering the scene to match if not surpass their efficiency with greater safety and sustainability. One example is a storage system based on Lithium Titanate or LTO.

LTO batteries are designed for both residential and commercial installations. They have been seen to have longer life spans and more advantages in fast charging. LTO batteries also have wider temperature tolerance which means they have a lower risk of overheating, unlike some Li-ion batteries. While the upfront cost of LTO batteries may be more expensive than their traditional counterparts, manufacturers developing this technology believe the long-term benefits will be worthwhile.

Another variation of the lithium-ion that is becoming more popular and has captured the interest of large manufacturers across the globe is lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries. Researchers from Monash University have developed a very high-capacity lithium-sulfur battery that could outperform traditional batteries while having less environmental impact during production. It has also been reported to have the potential to expand the electric vehicle (EV) ranges and bring down the cost of their batteries, therefore helping speed up EV adoption. Li-S batteries have been seen to have lower manufacturing costs, especially that sulfur is a more abundant material than some of its counterparts.

No# 2 - Energy control systems

While technologies are focusing on the generation and storage of solar power, there are also solar energy solutions geared towards placing the control in the hands of consumers.

Energy control system technologies allow consumers to manage their energy, whether driven by their needs at home or even power outage scenarios.

One example is an intelligent electrical panel designed to enable homeowners to monitor and control their home energy through an app. In a few taps, they can see which areas in their homes are active and turn devices on and off where necessary. Homeowners also have the capability to choose what loads are being backed up by their solar battery during a power outage as well as seeing how long their battery will last.

No# 1 - Aggregated resources

Aggregated resourcing is emerging as a crucial vehicle to accelerate the generation capacity of renewable sources, particularly solar energy solutions. It allows a group of companies or local institutions to operate many distributed energy resources, such as small-scale batteries that are directly connected to the distribution network.

The technology that enables aggregated resourcing is the Virtual Power Plant or VPP. VPP's make it possible for a network of homeowners with solar panels and battery systems to pool their excess of stored energy and push it to the grid at peak times when wholesale market spot prices are high. Giving them the ability to trade solar energy and create a revenue stream from their net solar. Furthermore, by exporting renewable energy to the grid during periods of peak demand, households with solar battery systems participating in VPP can relieve pressure on the grid reducing reliance on fossil fuels providing clean energy on demand.

Solar energy has come a long way. The technological advancements over the last few years have paved the way for it to be more attainable for households and businesses alike. We anticipate the price of solar and batteries to drop significantly as market competition increases over the next few years. Automotive companies like VW and Tesla are both stating that they will have battery costs under $100 per kWh in 2020, reducing the value of a 15kW home battery system from around $15,000 to under $1,500 making it more affordable for everyone.

As more innovative solar energy solutions continue to emerge, solar energy is definitely on its way to beating fossil fuels and become the most important source for electricity production.

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