10 Solar Energy Breakthroughs in 2021

To ease severe environmental concerns and become a sustainable alternative to burning fossil fuels, a new and reliable renewable energy source is required in response to rising gas emissions, air pollution, and global warming.

The energy given by the sun is not only a source of light but rather a source of energy to harvest and generate solar energy into renewable energy. As it’s the 21st century, it’s no surprise that the world revolves around technological advancement.

Solar energy is the fastest-growing renewable energy source in the United States. It is expected to exceed hydropower, which is now the most widely used renewable energy source, by 2030.

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is the process of converting the sun’s heat and light energy into electricity. It is regarded as having the “cheapest electricity in history, with technology that is less expensive than coal and gas.”

Let’s have a look at the ten major solar energy breakthroughs of 2021!

1. Solar automobiles

In the current state, transportation is one of the significant sources of pollution and increases in carbon dioxide emissions production. Transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions account for roughly 29% of US greenhouse gas emissions, making it the most significant contributor.

For this, the most fascinating and unique inventions have been created, such as solar automobiles. It gives us an alternative to harvesting renewable energy.

Aptera - The first solar vehicle that requires no charging operates entirely through solar energy.
Aptera – The first solar vehicle that requires no charging operates entirely through solar energy.

This solution can be powered by integrated photovoltaics that will allow electric vehicles to recharge without stopping. Unlike regular electric cars, which must stop every few miles to replenish their batteries, solar vehicles can drive.

Photovoltaic cells integrated into electric automobiles and trucks convert sunlight into electricity. Solar energy is stored in batteries, which allows them to work smoothly at night or when there is no direct sunlight.

Aptera Motors, Atlis Motor Vehicles, Fisker Inc, Lightyear One, and Sono Motors are developing solar cars or hybrid versions. The solar cells are also being integrated onto rooftops of established OEMs such as Hyundai, Tesla, and Toyota.

Some of the advantages of solar automobiles are:

  • It saves money on gas and is environmentally friendly.
  • There is no additional cost other than battery replacement.
  • It does not pollute the environment with air and noise pollution.

Comparing Vehicle efficiency

  1. Gas Vehicles – Only roughly 12 to 30% of the gasoline fuel is used to move vehicles in gas cars. The engine loses the majority of the energy, up to 72 percent, mainly as heat. Wind resistance, rolling resistance, and braking all contribute to a loss of about 25% of power to the wheels.
  2. Hybrid vehicles – In hybrids, around 21 to 40% of the fuel is used to propel the vehicle. The majority of the energy, roughly 69 percent, is lost in the engine as heat, just like gas vehicles. Power is lost at the wheels; however, regenerative braking can recover up to 9% of that loss.
  3. Electric Vehicles – Electric vehicles like the Aptera can be anywhere from 60% to nearly 100% efficient, depending on the technology. Only around 20% of energy is lost with electric drive systems. Most energy is lost due to wind resistance; hence, an EV’s aerodynamic profile significantly impacts its efficiency.

2. Solar Glass

Modern architecture is primarily concerned with energy efficiency as a result of rising temperatures. Heat and glare are like the trash that needs to be removed, even if natural light is necessary for a comfortable existence. These two are well-known for producing unwelcome health problems and skyrocketing energy expenditures.

On the other hand, Glass plays an essential role in the construction sector, but can it solve the problem? On the other hand, Ordinary Glass has no chance, whereas new glass solutions, such as solar Glass, may efficiently deal with this problem.

Solar Glass

Solar windows are also often known as solar glasses, which change and gather solar energy and are transparent solar cells. It can transform sunlight into energy without electricity-generating bluish-grey opaque panels, and they can do it on any glass surface.

Benefits of Solar Glass

  • It decreases heat glare and creates a comfortable indoor environment, whether or not air conditioning is used.
  • It lowers the cost of power and conserves energy by reducing heat gain in space. One of the reasons is why it is employed in environmentally friendly business and residential structures. Since this Glass allows natural light to enter, you may not need to invest in artificial lighting.

3. Solar Roads

It is a ground-breaking idea that adds a second function to road networks: renewable energy generation. Future roads, walkways, and cycling paths may generate electricity from the sun’s energy while also providing surfaces for us to travel. At least, that’s the hope of the designers of the following solar roadways, walkways, and bike pathways.

They’re built to withstand a lot of pressure and therefore should produce a lot of solar energy even when covered in other materials. Solar roads are intended to provide power to autos for minimizing the use of gasoline.

China finished construction on a 1-kilometer stretch of an expressway in Jinan in 2018. It is made up of three layers and was created by Qilu Transportation Development Group. Its foundation is built chiefly of insulation, with solar panels in the intermediate layer and transparent concrete above the structure.

Over two lanes and one emergency lane, the 1-kilometer section covers approximately 5875 m2. This solar road means to produce roughly 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

Solar Road
China introduced the world’s first 1km solar highway in the Shandong province’s capital Jinan, south of Beijing, in 2017. (Source: nsenergybusiness.com)

Despite the technology’s high cost, solar highways will significantly advance solar energy as the world’s principal energy source. Solar roadways will promote solar energy as the dominant energy source worldwide as improvements and testing continue.

Although the solar road trial in France did not produce particularly efficient results, it did generate electricity and provided incentives to improve solar road technology.

4. Solar Paint

Imagine a world where one could paint their roofs and walls that can generate electricity through the sun! Creative right, well it’s possible as one of the breakthroughs of renewable energy is the invention of solar paints.

Solar paints are understood as paint that can generate electricity but also work as regular paint. The paint would be ordinary paint with thousands of particles of light-sensitive material embedded in it, stuff that would turn regular paint into supercharged energy-capturing paint.

Solar Paint

Solar traditional renewable energy such as solar panels play an executive role in producing electricity through the sun. Still, the invention of solar paint creates an even more hassle-free environment and a cheaper alternative towards saving electricity bills.

There are three types of solar paints, which are as follows:

  1. Solar paint hydrogen –  It is a solar paint generated through water vapor created by researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). The paint absorbs moisture from the air and breaks the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using solar energy. After that, hydrogen can be used to generate renewable energy.
  2. Quantum dot solar cells, aka photovoltaic paints – They’re microscopic semiconductors that can absorb light and convert it to electricity. These dots are less expensive to produce and also are far more efficient than regular solar cells.
  3. Perovskite solar paint – Spray-on solar cells is a calcium titanium oxide mineral perovskite material named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski.

5. Solar energy batteries

These are not regular electric batteries but batteries that store solar energy from the sun for several months, releasing heat on demand. Its primary purpose is to save energy during the sunny weather and save it for a rainy day.

UV radiation is absorbed by particular molecules incorporated in the lattice. The energy is released when the material is reheated. The material was able to retain power for more than four months, according to the researchers.

It could potentially use the innovative approach to heat homes in the winter by repurposing summer energy.

Solar energy batteries
Mighty Max Battery ML35-12

6. Sunless solar lights

Solar panels are one of the most admired alternatives for fossil fuels when it comes to renewable energy. But in weather conditions such as rainy and cloudy, this might not be the most effective at all! For this, sunless solar lights are the perfect dupe.

Carvey Ehren Maigue, an electrical engineering student in the Philippines, devised the concept known as AuREUS (Aurora Renewable Energy and UV Sequestration).

It consists of a solar film that absorbs UV light and transforms it to visible light and organic luminescent particles that absorb UV light and convert it to visible light.

Sunless Solar Lights
Image source

The test panel tinted lime green yet straightforward can generate enough power each day to charge two phones. He claims that if these panels are scaled sufficiently, buildings might render all of their electricity.

7. Thin Solar Cells

Did you know that solar cells can capture up to 46% of the sun’s energy instead of the 18% that regular panels can?

The remedy could come from the most recent advancement in solar technology. When compared to a regular photovoltaic panel, the solar cloth is fragile and light.

But, above all, the solar fabric is adaptable. It’s simple to apply to domed or circular constructions. Awnings over doorways, tents, and window coverings are some of the other applications. Because of its lightweight, it is perfect for covering extensive areas.

Thin Solar Cells
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Extremely Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Solar fabric’s efficiency at capturing the sun’s energy is now around 13 percent. Solar material, on the other hand, is more effective in low-light situations.

8. Space-based solar power

Space-based solar powers are the innovation in harnessing solar energy from the sun through space. You may wonder how is that possible? Well! The best approach is to use giant mirror-like solar reflectors mounted on satellites in orbit and concentrate solar energy onto solar panels.

These, in turn, convert the energy into electromagnetic radiation, which is then transmitted back to Earth via an antenna in either laser or microwave form.

Space-based Solar Power
NASA Integrated Symmetrical Concentrator SPS concept (Source – Wikimedia.org)

Furthermore, a ground-based rectifying antenna receives the waves or electromagnetic radiation emitted by lasers and turns them into electricity, then supplied to the grid. This method provides several advantages over traditional solar energy.

For starters, it avoids downtime caused by bad weather or at night. Only 3% of sunlight reaches Earth in a typical winter month in Europe, whereas satellites in space might harvest energy for 99 percent of the year.

9. Solar Wind energy tower

The future of energy, solar wind energy, has developed a new way to produce abundant, clean, and affordable electricity. The solar wind energy tower is cylindrically located in a hot, dry area.

Solar Wind Energy Tower
This Revolutionary Wind/solar Energy Tower Is 2,235 Ft High and 1,200 Ft Width. (Source: energy.gov)

It’s a basic concept that makes use of the sun’s heat without relying on its direct rays. Water particles sprayed from the top of a tall tower cool the surrounding air molecules. The colder air then descends through the building to its base (hot air rises, cool air falls), rushes into wind turbine tunnels.

In the middle of the desert, those turbines power generators, and voila: a giant solar/wind hybrid energy system, run all day and night.

10. Self-heating solar panels

The researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom are currently investigating making more durable solar panels that could potentially ‘self-heal’ if broken using this technology. The reliability and endurance of cells are two of the most significant roadblocks to advancement in this field.

Self Heating Solar Panels
Heating solar panels to clear the snow. (source)

Solar panels currently have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years, so inventing self-repair technology could be a game-changer.

Professor Keith McKenna, who led the study, compares antimony selenide’s remarkable self-healing capacity to when a starfish or reptile regrows a leg after an accident. It is still in the works of making, and we may hear it soon.

Summary

Solar energy has made a significant breakthrough and created innovations that are eco-friendly and self-reliant. Consumers and people can use it in their everyday lives.

The breakthrough of these fantastic technologies showcases that nothing is impossible, but rather a little bit of knowledge can bring achievement milestones to create a more eco-sustainable and green Earth.