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As technology improves solar panels are becoming more efficient and economical. According to the UK government, solar is now 88% cheaper than it was a decade ago.
There has already been a shift towards higher-efficiency modules, which can generate 1.5 times more power than existing, similarly sized, modules.
There are also production innovations in the pipeline that will reduce the amounts of costly materials such as silver and silicon used in the manufacture of solar cells, as well as innovations such as bifacial modules, which allow panels to capture solar energy from both sides.
Such developments will ensure that solar energy will continue to become cheaper, more accessible, and ultimately, more attractive.
Airports across the globe are increasingly adopting solar power, and some have built on their investment in solar infrastructure over the years and become fully solar-powered. Cochin International Airport in Kochi, India, was the first solar-powered airport in the world, with a total output of 18 GWh per year. This allows the airport to be completely reliant on solar energy, feeding back power to the Kerala State Electricity Board grid and buying it back when needed.
Edmonton International Airport, Canada (EIA) is building the world’s largest airport solar farm with over 300,000 panels. This will make it completely self-sufficient whilst also powering the local area. Developer, Alpin Sun, predicts that it will offset 106,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.
In the past, there have been concerns over the weather negatively impacting solar energy production, particularly in places like Edmonton where snowfall is very high. To disperse concerns, EIA has stated that the top layer of the solar panels will have a non-adherent coating to prevent snow from sticking to it, as well as East-West panels that move with the sun which will help shift any snow.
Switzerland is currently developing solar panels for its railway tracks. The removeable, metre-wide panels will cover the unused space between the rails. A pilot project testing the panels is set to take place on a section of the railway near Buttes in western Switzerland. If successful, and the panels are rolled out to the country’s entire rail network, it is estimated that the panels could supply 2% of Switzerland’s electricity.
In 2020, a Californian science start-up secured a $30 million funding round to develop and manufacture windows that capture and convert sunlight into solar energy, aiming to be producing at scale by 2024. This technology has the potential to revolutionise how we build our cities.
The USA and China are investing in space-based solar power (SBSP). The SBSP technological process works by using solar panels to collect solar energy in space with reflectors or inflatable mirrors that direct solar radiation onto solar panels, and then beam it onto Earth through a microwave or laser.
This approach allows for continuous power regeneration and results in barely any hazardous waste to our environment. Space-based solar panels can generate 2,000 GW of power constantly.
High research and development costs mean it’s likely this project will be ongoing for a number of years.
As the pressure to achieve net zero carbon intensifies and the demand for energy security increases, solar is set to remain an attractive source of renewable energy. As technology and innovation evolve, we can expect exciting developments for the future of solar.