Are Sun-Tracking and Transparent Solar Panels Close to Becoming a Reality?

Solar energy will play a crucial role as governments phase out carbon-based energy in favor of green energy. They are more mainstream than wind energy and electric cars, and they have been around for much longer. Despite that, however, solar has a long way to go before it can fully replace conventional energy sources.

Sure, solar energy is clean, renewable and doesn’t harm the environment. And for the past few years, the market has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 49%. But, solar still represents a tiny portion of the U.S. energy market with renewables as a whole making up only 11% of America’s energy consumption.

Cost is still one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of solar energy, especially the initial costs. Plenty of people avoid solar panels based on aesthetic reasons as well. On top of that, those who adopt solar are at the mercy of the elements. So how can manufacturers fix this?

Sun-Tracking Solar Panels

Most solar panels on the market can only generate electricity when they’re in direct contact with the sun, giving them only a couple of hours of sunlight. A team of researchers from Singapore have gone around this issue by developing solar panels that move to face the sun.

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore ran tests on three different configurations for solar panels and they found that a single-axis panel that tracked the sun through the day offered the best balance between cost and efficiency. The team also made the panels dual sided, allowing the side that isn’t facing the sun to gather light that’s reflected off the ground. With both these features, the panels can produce 35% more energy than conventional solar panels.

Transparent Panels

The issue of aesthetics can be addressed by transparent solar panels. There have been numerous efforts over the years to perfect the technology, and at least four different firms have managed to create transparent solar technology. According to findings published by MIT, a new manufacturing method can produce atomically thin graphene sheets, allowing companies to make lightweight, flexible and clear solar panels.

Scientists in Europe have also developed semi-transparent PV panels that can adjust the light they transmit. Germany and Ukraine already sell clear solar panels that can be used in windows, or skylights. However, they aren’t quite as efficient as traditional solar panels.

Most developed governments are planning on adopting green energy 100% over the next decade or two but before that can happen, more research and development have to be done. Solar energy has to be affordable and efficient enough to warrant switching. Those two challenges of efficiency and affordability are what EV makers like Workhorse Group Inc. (NASDAQ: WKHS) are striving to deliver to their customers.

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