The Top Solar Energy Trends of 2016

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This year has given rise to some exciting new solar technology innovations.

Solar cells are continuing to get thinner and lighter, new regions are being opened up for solar farm development, and residential solar power generation is becoming more of a reality for everyday homeowners.

Check out some of the year’s solar energy highlights below:


Solar cells getting thinner and lighter

MIT ultra thin solar cell on a bubble
Photo: Joel Jean and Anna Osherov

Researchers at MIT have developed solar cells that take ‘thin and light’ to a whole new level.

This solar technology breakthrough brings with it a ton of new potential applications, allowing solar energy to captured in places it’s never been possible before. Sure, placing the cells on an actual bubble doesn’t make much sense, but the size and minimal weight of these cells makes them perfect for wearable technology, clothing, or portable devices, like smartphones, tablets and watches.

So, how is it done?

From MIT:

[T]he team used a common flexible polymer called parylene as both the substrate and the overcoating, and an organic material called DBP as the primary light-absorbing layer…  The entire process takes place in a vacuum chamber at room temperature and without the use of any solvents, unlike conventional solar-cell manufacturing, which requires high temperatures and harsh chemicals. In this case, both the substrate and the solar cell are “grown” using established vapor deposition techniques.

While it should be noted that this development is still just a laboratory proof of concept, expect this technology to be refined and commercially available in a few years.


Solar farms finding new, unexpected homes

Photo: Stefan Krasowski

While not exactly a technology breakthrough, the planned solar farm at the site of the famous nuclear meltdown demonstrates an opportunity to generate solar power in places that are otherwise inhabitable.

Since the nuclear meltdown in 1986, Chernobyl has been considered a ghost town. But now, the Ukrainian government is working with US investment firms and Canadian energy companies to put the 1,600 square miles of desolate land to good use.

Though the development plans aren’t imminent, the news does show signs of positive progress in the area.

Read more on the Chernobyl development at PV Tech


Camouflaged and Roof-Integrated Panels

We’ve covered solar shingles in the past, but two new approaches to solar roofing look to make residential energy power generation even more accessible for homeowners.

First off, a new type of camouflaged solar panel made by Sistine Solar aims to take the ugliness out of roof-mounted panels by blending the colour and design of your roof right into the panel. Check out a few images of their implementations below to see how they look:

While they don’t take any of the bulk out of roof-mounted panels, the camouflaged design certainly helps to blend the panels in with the rest of a home.

Taking a more integrated approach to the solar roof is the team at SolarCity. On a recent earnings call, SolarCity’s chairman (and Tesla CEO) Elon Musk alluded to a new product development being released and SolarCity.

According to Electrek, Musk stated:

“It’s a solar roof, as opposed to modules on a roof.”

And then:

“I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy, where you have a beautiful roof. It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.”

tesla solar roofing
A solar roofing product from a joint Tesla / Solar City presentation deck, via Electrek.

While SolarCity wouldn’t be the first to offer an integrated solar roof product, the combined package with a Powerwall would make it an enticing package.

Between these comments and the expected Tesla acquisition, SolarCity has some exciting days ahead.

These are some of the top solar developments we’ve seen so far this year – stay tuned for what’s left to come in the rest of 2016.

  • Ian Andrew

    As the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greener Ideal, Ian has been a driving force in environmental journalism and sustainable lifestyle advocacy since 2008. With over a decade of dedicated involvement in environmental matters, Ian has established himself as a respected expert in the field. Under his leadership, Greener Ideal has consistently delivered independent news and insightful content that empowers readers to engage with and understand pressing environmental issues.

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