Buildings as Solar Generators? Heliatek Creates Ultrathin Panels to Harness the Sun’s Power

It helps vertical structures to collect and transform energy from the Sun.

Turning buildings into solar-powered generators is the challenge, but researchers and companies are now on the verge of creating new panels that could change the way it stands out in the area. A German company called Heliatek has developed new ultrathin and organic solar panels that could be applied to high-rise structures to become more self-sufficient and eco-friendly. 

Harnessing the power of the Sun is one of the present challenges in the world, especially as solar panels are getting more commercialized in society. 

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Turning Science Fiction Into Science Fact: Space Solar Power Beaming

An artistic rendering showing the concept of collecting solar energy in space and beaming converted RF energy to a terrestrial rectenna.

By Keith Cowing

In the 1940s, science fiction author Isaac Asimov theorized the concept of collecting the sun’s energy in space, then beaming that energy down to Earth.

Today, Northrop Grumman’s Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) Project team is making that science fiction a reality with steady progress towards transmitting solar energy from space to anywhere on Earth. SSPIDR technology can be especially useful in forward operating and contested areas where warfighters need steady power to maintain mission operations.

Harnessing solar power for use on Earth has enormous potential for communities where energy is scarce. For example, when military personnel establish a forward operating base one of the most dangerous parts of the ground operation is getting power. Convoys and supply lines, which are major targets for adversaries, are the usual methods to supply power. However, solar-powered beaming energy technology can provide constant, consistent and logistically agile power to expeditionary forces operating in hard-to-reach areas – assuring power is transmitted via radio frequency (RF) from space and reducing reliance on fuel convoys and other energy generation methods.

Utilizing one of the company’s test chambers specifically designed for RF at its Baltimore manufacturing and test campus, the SSPIDR team successfully demonstrated the transmission of directed RF energy to a ground-based rectifying antenna (rectenna) – a critical milestone in the development of this pioneering technology. In this demonstration, engineers steered RF energy to rectenna hardware, energizing a series of lights that indicated successful formation of an energy beam and conversion to useful electrical current.

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Paper-Thin Solar Cell Can Turn Any Surface Into A Power Source

MIT researchers have developed a scalable fabrication technique to produce ultrathin, lightweight solar cells that can be stuck onto any surface.

By Andrew McCollum

MIT engineers have developed ultralight fabric solar cells that can quickly and easily turn any surface into a power source.

These durable, flexible solar cells, which are much thinner than a human hair, are glued to a strong, lightweight fabric, making them easy to install on a fixed surface. They can provide energy on the go as a wearable power fabric or be transported and rapidly deployed in remote locations for assistance in emergencies. They are one-hundredth the weight of conventional solar panels, generate 18 times more power-per-kilogram, and are made from semiconducting inks using printing processes that can be scaled in the future to large-area manufacturing.

Because they are so thin and lightweight, these solar cells can be laminated onto many different surfaces. For instance, they could be integrated onto the sails of a boat to provide power while at sea, adhered onto tents and tarps that are deployed in disaster recovery operations, or applied onto the wings of drones to extend their flying range. This lightweight solar technology can be easily integrated into built environments with minimal installation needs.

“The metrics used to evaluate a new solar cell technology are typically limited to their power conversion efficiency and their cost in dollars-per-watt. Just as important is integrability—the ease with which the new technology can be adapted. The lightweight solar fabrics enable integrability, providing impetus for the current work. We strive to accelerate solar adoption, given the present urgent need to deploy new carbon-free sources of energy,” says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Technology, leader of the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab), director of MIT.nano, and senior author of a new paper describing the work.

Joining Bulović on the paper are co-lead authors Mayuran Saravanapavanantham, an electrical engineering and computer science graduate student at MIT; and Jeremiah Mwaura, a research scientist in the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics. The research is published today in Small Methods.

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Is Space-Based Solar Power Ready for Its Moment in the Sun?

An artistic depiction of sunlight-harvesting satellites supplying electricity from Earth orbit by beaming power to ground-based receiving stations.

By Leonard David

When inventor Charles Fritts created the first crude solar photovoltaic cells in the 1880s, one might have thought the achievement would rapidly revolutionize global electricity production. There is, after all, no power source cheaper, cleaner and more ubiquitous than sunlight. Yet despite enormous (and ongoing) technical advances making solar power ever more capable and affordable, some 140 years on it still supplies less than 5 percent of the world’s electricity. For all its benefits, solar power does have drawbacks that can limit its use—chief among them the fact that half the planet’s surface is in darkness at any given time.

In 1968 U.S. aerospace engineer Peter Glaser detailed a potential solution to these problems that was not only “outside the box” but entirely outside Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of building gigantic solar farms across vast, ecologically vulnerable tracts of land, Glaser proposed to loft the photovoltaics into orbit on fleets of solar power satellites. In orbit—unattenuated by clouds and freed from planetary cycles of day and night—sunlight could be harvested with optimum efficiency, then beamed as microwaves to ground-based “rectifying antennas” (rectennas). Back on Earth, the microwaves would be converted to electricity and channeled into power grids across the globe.

At the time and for decades afterward, however, the cost of space launches was too high and the performance of photovoltaics was too low to make Glaser’s bright idea a reality. But now technological advances, paired with the growing need for clean energy, are reinvigorating the concept of space-based solar power (SBSP), with pilot projects emerging in the U.S., China, Europe and Japan. As a new wave of research begins, the question lingers: Will SBSP ever be ready for its moment in the sun?

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radical solar allows energy to now be stored for up to 18 years say scientists

By  Andy Corbley 

A pair of Swedish scientists designed a microchip that stores solar energy in liquid, and shipped it to China where three months later it was converted into electricity.

The scientists are hoping to open a Pandora’s box of solar-powered electronics and appliances—expanding solar’s use away from exclusively baseload power generation

Scientists and entrepreneurs are still racing to see who can create the most efficient and effective way of storing solar energy, as PV panels continue to proliferate across the world. These include hugely varied projects which GNN has covered, like ingots of molten aluminum, and deep tunnels that facilitate the lifting and lowering of a huge weight.

This latest newsworthy breakthrough comes from a Dutch-Chinese design team looking for a small, simple way of storing solar energy for the market of smaller electronics.

“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy,” research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University, told Euronews. “It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location.”

Their design revolves around a specifically-engineered molecule that changes shape when it comes in contact with sunlight, rearranging carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen, to form an isomer—an energy-rich molecule with a different configuration that holds its shape when immersed in liquid.

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Solar panels that can generate electricity at night have been developed at Stanford

By RINA TORCHINSKY

A team of engineers at Stanford University have developed a solar cell that can generate some electricity at night.

The research comes at a moment when the number of solar jobs and residential installations are rising.

While standard solar panels can provide electricity during the day, this device can serve as a “continuous renewable power source for both day- and nighttime,” according to the study published this week in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

The device incorporates a thermoelectric generator, which can pull electricity from the small difference in temperature between the ambient air and the solar cell itself.

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World’s First Solar Powered Mobile Home to Go on 1,800 Mile Journey

by Sebastian Toma

Solar Team Eindhoven, a Dutch student team known for its solar-powered vehicles, has unveiled the world’s first solar-powered mobile home. Its makers have called it Stella Vita, and they say it can generate enough solar electricity to drive 730 kilometers (454 miles) in a day, along with also being a house on wheels. 6 photos

The Dutch students behind the project will undertake a month-long journey through Europe starting September 19, 2021. Stella Vita will be driven on solar energy alone from Eindhoven in The Netherlands, all the way to the southernmost tip of Spain. 

This solar house on wheels features a shower, a kitchen, a sleeping space, and a cockpit. Its roof has several solar panels, which can be expanded when the vehicle Is parked, revealing a 17.5-square-meter (188 sq ft.) area. The latter is double when compared to the surface of the roof in the driving mode. 

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Tunisian Startup 3D prints solar-powered bionic hands

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A Tunisian startup is developing a 3D-printed bionic hand, hoping the affordable and solar-powered prosthetic will help amputees and other disabled people across Africa.

Unlike traditional devices, the artificial hand can be customised for children and youths, who otherwise require an expensive series of resized models as they grow up.

The company Cure Bionics also has plans to develop a video game-like virtual reality system that helps youngsters learn how to use the artificial hand through physical therapy.

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Tesla expanding into solar microgrids and virtual power plants

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Elon Musk says he expects Tesla’s energy business will one day be equal to or exceed its automotive business. That day may be some time in the future but the company is clearly expanding its solar and battery operations rapidly, both for grid scale and residential applications.

Last week, Michael Snyder, Tesla’s director of engineering and construction for energy projects posted on Linked In, “If you like solving problems at the nexus of power systems interactions, protection coordination, system and product level controls, and DERs (Powerpacks, Megapacks, solar, and generators), check out the link below for a microgrid-focused product engineer. We have 120+ operational microgrids around the world with high impact to a variety of communities/customers. This is a unique and rewarding role.” That post was followed by a link to apply for a position with Tesla Energy.

According to E&E News, a microgrid is a cluster of energy generators — whether diesel or solar or wind powered — that serves nearby users such as a building or a campus. That cluster “islands” and keeps the lights on even if the regular grid around it blacks out, something that is happening more frequently because of severe storms, wildfires and floods associated with a warming climate. “If you look at the performance of the U.S. grid, it just gets worse and worse and worse,” says Peter Asmus, who studies microgrids as a research director at Guidehouse Insights.

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New solar-powered truck bed cover captures the sun

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Solar power integration for pickup trucks just became more innovative.

 Worksport™, the manufacturer of tonneau covers and accessories for trucks, has debuted TerraVis™, a platform for versatile and cost-effective pickup truck solar power. The system combines the tonneau covers with a solar generation and energy storage system.

Solar panels built into the cover will collect the sun’s rays and store energy in multiple battery banks. The stored energy can be used to provide power to an electric motor or removed and used remotely.

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Nikola Tesla’s vision of wireless power transmission is alive with Kiwi startup Emrod

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Its technology is supposed to be cheaper, safer, and more eco-friendly than wired power

History lesson: In 1890, Nikola Tesla caused a total blackout in the town of Colorado Springs using a 140-foot Tesla coil. Creating a citywide power outage was not his goal. He wanted to power a light bulb that was more than two miles away without using wires. Much to the dismay and anger of residents and the power plant, whose dynamo was burned out, the experiment was claimed to be a success, a claim that later proved to be debatable.

Now more than 100 years later, an energy startup called Emrod wants to bring Tesla’s dream of wireless power transmission to life. The New Zealand company has partnered with one of the country’s primary power distributors to build a wireless electricity infrastructure that it believes can deliver power more efficiently than traditional methods.

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In a world-first, Australian University builds its own solar farm to offset 100% of its electricity use

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LIMITING GLOBAL WARMING to well below 2℃ this century requires carbon emissions to reach net-zero by around 2050. Australian households have done much to support the transition via rooftop solar investments. Now it’s time for organizations to take a more serious role.

The University of Queensland’s efforts to reduce its electricity emissions provides one blueprint. Last week UQ opened a 64-megawatt solar farm at Warwick in the state’s southeast. It’s the first major university in the world to offset 100% of its electricity use with renewable power produced from its own assets. In fact, UQ will generate more renewable electricity than it uses.

The Warwick Solar farm shows businesses and other organizations that the renewables transition is doable, and makes economic sense.

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