Sustainability-in-Tech : Prototype Means Solar Farms In Space Getting Closer

Oxfordshire-based Space Solar has reported a world first with the development of a UK Prototype for space-based solar panels that could mean a constant, sustainable energy supply to the planet.

Solar Farms In Space 

Space Solar’s plan is to be able to power more than a million homes by the 2030s using a mile-wide complex of mirrors and solar panels – a solar farm – orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth.

Panels Must Rotate Towards The Sun 

For the space-based solar farm to work effectively, the panels must be able to rotate towards the sun whatever its position, while still sending power to a fixed receiver on the ground. It is this ability that has just been shown to work for the first time at Queen’s University Belfast, in a prototype that used a wireless beam “steered” across a lab to turn on a light. Space Solar has called its super-efficient design for harvesting constant sunlight CASSIOPei.

The Ultimate Form of Clean Energy 

Space Solar says that space-based solar power will be the ultimate form of clean dependable energy because it will deliver a constant, 24/7 clean source of power from space that’s unaffected by the weather, seasons, or time of day.

Other Benefits 

Some of the many other benefits of space-based solar highlighted by the company include:

– It is dispatchable, modulating the output and integrating well with intermittent wind and terrestrial solar.

– Solar panels in space capture 13 times more energy than ground-based ones due to higher light intensity and the lack of atmosphere, clouds … or night!

– It has a low environmental impact with respect to land usage, carbon footprint and mineral resources.

– The technology is very flexible, e.g. it can export energy to other co-operating nations without the need for an expensive fixed infrastructure such as underwater power cables.

– It can be switched rapidly to power green Hydrogen generation or water desalination plants, as well as providing electricity into the grid.

Challenge – 68 Space Flights 

Although the prototype has been developed successfully, there are still some major challenges ahead for Space Solar, not least the estimated 68 space flights that are likely to be needed to get the parts into orbit that could then be assembled by robots into a working space power station.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Major challenges such as tackling global warming, decarbonising the energy sector to meet targets, keeping up with a growing electricity demand, and finding a more dependable, flexible, and sustainable source of energy have required some innovative thinking. Having solar farms in space where they can provide 24/7 clean, natural energy, therefore, sounds as though it could be one of several options with real promise.

The development of the right kind of solar panel to help achieve this should be celebrated as one important step forward in achieving Space Solar’s vision. There are, however, some arguably much bigger challenges to overcome, including getting the kit into space using almost 70 flights and getting robots to successfully put it all together whilst in orbit. Also, the target of getting it all up and running by the 2030s sounds ambitious, although it needs to be ambitious to tackle our pressing climate and energy challenges. Having a constant, dependable, clean power source beamed from space could be of huge benefit for countries and economies around the world and could help solve the issue of trying to get power to areas where the geography would have prevented this before.

Also, the fact that the technology can be used to power green Hydrogen generation or water desalination plants may also help with this global evening-up of opportunities, helping the world to tackle its main challenges much more quickly and effectively than ever before.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Art Solar Panels, Practical And Beautiful

A group of solar panel startups is producing panels that enhance the look of buildings by combing them with art or making them as coloured cladding, facades, or roof tiles.

Solar Panels That Blend In 

A group of Dutch startups is creating innovative solar panels that not only generate electricity but fit in well with (and enhance) the appearance of buildings in urban areas and business districts.

Funding 

The Dutch government’s recent decision to ringfence up to €412mn in funding for next-generation solar technologies such as solar facades, solar glass, and building-integrated photovoltaics has meant funds being directed toward many of the kind of solar startups like those in the Dutch SolarNL consortium.

With investment in European solar startups up nearly 400 per cent on last year, the future is bright in solar PV manufacturing.

Examples 

Some examples of how some of the new crop of solar PV startups are changing the way solar panels look and are used include:

– Zigzagsolar makes attractive building facades that are made of a combination of a hidden PV systems tilted towards the sun and decorative panels facing the urban surroundings. The company says the tilting of the panels on the side of buildings (made to look like coloured panels and murals) makes them far more efficient (126 per cent) than flat-on-the-wall or standard roof panels. The Zigzagsolar system involves making a whole building façade from a number of prefabricated, single full-operational cassettes, which can be linked together allowing the creation of one coherent look for the exterior of buildings such as an office block. The company describes the facades, which can be customised with any murals or colours as “Art combined with technology in urban areas”. 

– Solar Visuals in Roosendaal produces SunEwat photovoltaics-embedded opaque glass panels that are fully customisable, e.g. coloured or contain designs and can be used for building facades. The company says the panels enable “architects and designers to take an artistic approach to the vision glass elements” of buildings and that visually “Anything is possible: a specific colour, an abstract pattern or even the image of a painting or photograph”. Their products have already been deployed in projects in France (Paris), South Korea, and across the Netherlands.

– Solarix uses ceramic colouring techniques to make solar facade panels that match with other building materials, such as stone, composite wood or aluminium. The panels which have integrated solar cells can, therefore, be used to blend in with familiar building components such as roof tiles or facades whilst generating electricity at the same time, i.e. they can be used to make buildings create rather than just consume energy.

– Exasun, in The Hague, produces in-roof solar systems in the form of PV roof tiles (the X-Tile) that look like and can be blended in with normal roof tiles, or a complete PV roof (the X-Roof) without the use of roof tiles. The company says the individual X-Tile roof tiles are strong, look great, can deliver electricity for 30 years, and their smaller size means that just an area of a roof can be covered in them, or an entire roof can be fitted with panels for maximum power.

Other Companies  

There are now many other companies around the world making innovative solar panels that can integrated into urban environments. For example:

– Hungarian company Platio makes solar pavers that can be placed on terraces, driveways, walkways, or on other sunny, flat surfaces, giving a way to “provide clean energy for cities, buildings, homes and marinas”.

– US and South Korea-based SolarWindow makes transparent, electricity-generating glass and plastics that allow the windows on buildings to be turned into solar panels.

– German company Sono Motors makes retrofit solar panels that can be integrated into the exterior of third-party vehicles like busses, lorries, refrigerated vehicles, recreational vehicles and more, to effectively make them solar-powered. The company says this addresses challenges like range and charging limitations for electric buses, increasing energy prices for both power from the grid and diesel, and reduces urban emissions, extends battery lifetime, allows longer operating hours, and means fewer charging cycles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Advances in solar technology, investment, innovative startups, and the sheer range and scope of solar PV products means that all parts of previously wasted space (in energy terms) in urban areas can now be turned into clean, sustainable energy generating spaces, e.g. all parts of building exteriors, pavements, vehicles and more. Not only that, but advances in technology also mean that solar panels can be made in different shapes and sizes, incorporate custom designs, patterns, and artwork so that they can blend in, enhance the appearance of budlings, and even stand out as urban artworks to be enjoyed. While climate-change challenges are serious, innovative new solar panel products prove that green energy production doesn’t have to be dull but can also be very flexible and beautiful, thereby delivering additional benefits on other levels.