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4 Innovations Driving Solar Forward
May 16, 2014
Peter Oram
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As solar continues to shoot up the energy agenda, we thought it would be interesting to highlight a few other examples of how the solar industry is advancing.

 

Solar Energy Collection Efficiency: today’s solar plants are only able to collect a small percentage of the sunlight they are exposed to. New innovations to improve this include the layering of solar cells and two-sided solar cells. The Frauenhofer Institute recently announced a record 44.7 per cent efficiency using concentrated photovoltaic technology, which could offer an immense boost to the industry if it can be commercialised.

Solar Energy Storage: the grid needs the same amount of energy every day,  but the sun does not always shine, and storing excess energy collected during good days for use on bad days is a key focus. Some interesting developments include the use of large tanks of molten salt to store heat and the invention of a new kind of metal free “flow battery” made of quinones for renewable energy storage. Grid scale batteries will be vital in managing the variability of the renewable power contributions to the grid and for regulating grid frequency. One example of these batteries on the market today are those based on sodium halide, allowing for energy saving through off-peak grid recharging and, thanks to a greater power density and a higher tolerance for frequent charge/discharge cycles, they help smooth solar power integration without requiring frequent replacement.

Grid Integration: Plant Level Controllers ensure stable grid integration of renewable energy via large scale or distributed Solar Power plants. As grids grow more complex, the challenge of grid integration needs power plants and grids to be modelled in detail to provide stability analysis to identify the most cost-effective solution for optimal grid contributions, either through enhanced plant level controls or through additional power quality equipment at power plant or grid level.

Solar Energy Plant Maintenance: faults in solar farm equipment can reduce production levels, but because they are often based in remote locations, gaining access to engineers can be costly and time consuming. We have an application that allows remote monitoring and evaluation of plant performance using real-time and historical data, which diagnoses performance variation quickly, and allows for rapid fault resolution or deployment of service personnel very efficiently.

These are just a selection of the market innovations being developed today, but there are many more innovations being explored, including harvesting solar energy in space, ultra thin, flexible solar cells that could be used on glass façades on buildings, and a back-to-front solar idea that aims to generate direct current electric power by emitting infrared light.

While some of these innovations may be a little way into the future, one thing is for sure; solar has the potential to be a much more significant form of energy production in the future.

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Peter Oram

Peter Oram leads the Renewables Sales function.  Peter has over 20 years’ experience with the company working in roles of increasing responsibility, including Field Engineering Services, Engineering, Project Management, Engineering Director, Business Director and more recently as the Global Sales Leader role for the entire Renewables portfolio since 2013.  Peter is the 2014 Electrifying Change winner for ‘External Focus’ at GE. He graduated from the University of York, and after several global roles, Peter now resides in Rugby, UK.