Let there be sun
Solar technology is coming on in leaps and bounds. One of the most promising areas of research is in solar panels that can be integrated with normal building materials. Researchers at MIT have developed a flexible photovoltaic cell that uses sheets of graphene and nanowires. If commercialized, these low-cost transparent cells could simply be attached to windows, roofs or walls.
What is particularly promising about this innovation is that it uses carbon in the form of graphene instead of much more expensive silicon crystals in the cells. This also means that cells can be manufactured at much lower temperatures than traditional solar panels, reducing manufacturing costs and improving scalability.
The potential of integrating solar panels with building materials is already being realized by a number of companies, including Dow Chemical. It has been rapidly expanding the production of its Powerhouse Solar Shingles, which can be installed by normal roofing contractors just like traditional roofing tiles.
These technology innovations build on some impressive reports on solar’s increasing use throughout the world. For example, recent figures out of Italy show that 5.6% of the country’s electricity was delivered by solar power. This makes it the current leader in solar energy of developed nations, overtaking Germany’s 4.8%. The growth of solar in Italy has been spectacular: in 2012 it generated 8.3 TWh of energy, up a staggering 72% over 2011.
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