How New Solar Power Technology Will Make Solar Power for Home a Necessity

By: Andrew Sendy

The history of solar power can be compared to the closing scene in the World War II movie force Ten from Navarone when allied soldiers blew up a German dam. Immediately after the explosion, there appeared to be only superficial cracks in the dam wall but slowly the force of the water ripped the dam apart. So to will the force of the solar power revolution change the entire energy system in ways you may not have imagined yet. To date, the solar electricity revolution has only been evident in a handful of solar installations in your neighborhood, but this trickle of solar panel installations is about to become a flood.

The way we will produce electricity will never be the same again as solar power is now cheaper on a utility-scale than gas or coal. A utility-scale solar power plant can now be built and be economic selling its power at 4 cents per kWh or $ per megawatt hour. $40 per megawatt hour is about what the marginal cost is to buy the coal or gas to generate electricity but clean energy.

God bless those beautiful hippies that started using solar thermal hot water panels to heat their water in the 1970s, god bless them I say. Who would have thought their legacy may be one of economic reform rather than social change but solar power will change the entire economic structure of countries and the planet. The sun provides a dependable and affordable alternative source of electric power in the form of photovoltaics (PV) and solar heating through concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar energy offers a wide range of opportunities for technical innovations, and 2019 promises to be a year of solar power revolution for residential and commercial applications.

What has 2018 brought to the solar power industry?

The first quarter of 2018 saw great strides in the solar industry and more changes are on the horizon. According to CleanTechnica and recent figures from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, new U.S. electricity capacity from renewable energy sources surpassed those from natural gas for the fourth year in a row. This is great news for the solar industry as solar energy has become one of the least expensive power generation options. In 2018, the solar industry is expected to see even better technology, more efficient solar panels, and continued research into third generation building materials for solar cells. New technology like maxim cell level optimization, which is a new chip technology being incorporated into some of the best brands of solar panels, will also be incorporated into solar panels in 2018.

What are some of the top up and coming solar power technologies?

The solar industry is fast expanding with hundreds of different solar panel models available. This includes a growing number of premium technology brands in the residential market that has come a long way from those bulky rooftop panels. Research your options and get solar savings estimates to see what a solar investment entails. New 2018 solar panel technologies expected to hit the market include high capacity bifacial, all glass, frameless, and clear solar panels.

  • Bifacial solar panels, more commonly known as double-sided panels, offer added value by harnessing sunlight through both sides of the panel through reflection off the surface below. Higher energy harvest capacity makes these panels an attractive option.
  • All glass solar panels are innovative in multiple ways, including being more visually attractive and durable than typical silicon cell panels. These are often integrated into skylights and known to be more fire resistant and less prone to erosion.
  • Frameless solar panels solve the problem of unsightly solar panel frames that many homeowners feel is the least attractive aspect of rooftop panels. Frameless solar modules utilize specialized mounting apparatus that match the panels for a more streamlined look.
  • Clear solar panels utilize a frameless design entirely enclosed in glass that utilizes the same silicon technology as standard panels but offers a more attractive look by sandwiching the cells between two glass casings instead of being mounted on an opaque backing material.

Other up and coming technologies include solar skin designs that offer a customized look to match your roof shingles, solar panel and inverter integration and micro-grids that are smarter and smaller than traditional electricity grids.

Are solar panels the only way you can benefit from solar power?

Besides innovations in solar panels, other new technologies allow you to harness the sun’s power while blending in with your current architecture. Traditional solar panels monopolize the space they’re remounted on, building-integrated PVs produce power while replacing other construction materials. These solar-embedded products utilize the abundant surface area of residential and commercial buildings and offer creative solar solutions.

  • Solar windows are an exciting technology emerging on a larger scale in 2018. While they look like normal windows, solar windows generate energy as sunlight passes through the quantum dot coating in the glass.
  • Solar shingles are another impressive development for 2018 that infuse innovative solar technology into sleek, modern roof shingles. Tesla offers homeowners a way to integrate solar energy creation without any noticeable difference to their roof with their smooth, textured, Tuscan or French slate glass tiles. Best of all, solar shingle tiles are more durable and provide better insulation than standard roofing materials.

What new ways are people able to use solar power?

Harnessing the power of the sun isn’t a new concept, but innovations enable you to use solar power in new, ingenious ways. As technology seeks renewable sources for everyday items, companies continue to adapt products to run on or recharge through solar power with new trends popping up in 2018 and beyond.

  • Solar lighting has been a longstanding, popular usage of solar energy, but current technologies make it even more advantageous. Solar lights improve your home’s efficiency and reduce your electric bills, but expect developments beyond home use. Municipalities seeking cheaper lighting options may benefit from efficient solar-powered street lights.
  • Solar powered transportation offers another innovative contribution to renewable energy for various modes of transport. While solar-powered roads have already seen limited usage, expect to see PV energy powering cars, buses, subways, railroads, and airplanes in the near future.
  • Wearable solar technology offers a more personal way to use solar power — think smart watches and fitness devices. Plus, solar-powered chargers may be a game changer for cell phones, tablets, Bluetooth speakers, flashlights, and other rechargeable products.

What are some easy ways you can go solar?

The plummeting cost of residential and commercial solar generation system installation makes it more affordable and the easiest way to go solar every day. If you aren’t quite ready to make the investment, there are other extraordinary ways you can utilize the sun.

  • One of the oldest ways to go solar is by using a clothesline instead of running electric or gas clothes dryers that consume a substantial amount of energy. When you want zero costs and instant savings, this is the easiest way to go solar.
  • Another simple way to tap into solar energy is through passive solar heating for your home. Simply open your curtains during the day to capture the sun’s warmth, then close them at night to prevent heat from escaping.

Why is using solar power beneficial?

While there may some perceived drawbacks, there are numerous benefits of using solar power. Solar power systems utilize clean, pure energy from the sun, which freely exists and is inexhaustible, and provides a bevy of benefits like:

  • Reducing or totally eliminating energy bills
  • Earning tax credits and rebates
  • Savings from day one
  • Improving your home’s resale value
  • Combating greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reducing dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels

The U.S. Green Building Council also cites solar power benefits like extending the life of your roof, increasing energy efficiency during the summer by absorbing the sun’s heat into the panels instead of your home and better efficiency during droughts over other energy generation systems.

What kind of tax credits and rebates can you receive in 2018?

When contemplating the overall worth of solar panel installation, don’t forget, there are numerous solar incentives you can take advantage of while they last. The Solar Investment Tax Credit offers a 30% tax credit for solar systems installed on residential and commercial properties. Combine this with various local and state incentive programs and Solar Renewable Energy Credits to greatly reduce your investment costs.

Is going solar in 2019 worth it?

Whether going solar is worth it is a decision every individual must make for themselves, but comparing investment versus payback periods is a great way to help you make this decision. While residential PV systems could cost more than $50,000 a decade ago, new technology has cut prices by more than 60 percent, says Money magazine, and that’s before generous tax credits and rebates. If you live in a state with higher power prices, you have an even more compelling reason to consider solar panels in 2018.

It promises to be an exciting year with 2019 the tax credit for installing solar panels for homes stepping down at the end of the year. If you haven’t already done so I would definitely generate an online estimate for a solar power system for your house using our solar panel cost and savings calculator. It’s proof the solar industry is just getting started and the solar power revolution will be amazing!




Credit: Getty Images

A new synthetic material will make solar energy a more cost-effective, efficient, and reliable source of power

Clean energy is at a crossroads. To become a viable replacement for fossil fuels, solar power plants must first improve their efficiency to match the electrical output of nonrenewable energy sources. This relies heavily upon the innovation and development of new products that absorb and exchange heat at higher temperatures.


Unlike the solar panels on hybrid cars or residential rooftops, the ones found in solar power plants are massive and numerous. They absorb as much thermal energy from the sun as they possibly can and channel that heat into a fluid-filled converter called the heat exchanger.

There, supercritical CO2, a liquid version of carbon dioxide, acts as the medium in the energy conversion. The hotter the fluid gets, the more electricity that can be produced.

Still a new technology, using supercritical CO2 as the medium fluid lowers electricity and manufacturing costs and promises greater efficiency for future power plants, researchers say.

However, the current metal materials used to construct heat exchangers in supercritical CO2 energy cycles are only stable up to 550 degrees Celsius, according to Dorrin Jarrahbashi, an assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department at Texas A&M University. If the heat rises above that, the components begin to rapidly break down and lose effectiveness—and ultimately need replacement.

To combat this, researchers created a new composite material from a combination of ceramic and tungsten, a refractory metal, that can withstand temperatures over 750 degrees Celsius. This leap in heat absorption could increase the efficiency of generating electricity in integrated solar and supercritical CO2 power plants by 20 percent.


Along with enhancing energy output, the composite’s durability and low production cost will help cut down the expense of constructing and maintaining power plants.

“Using this material for manufacturing heat exchangers is an important step towards direct competition with fossil fuel power plants and a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jarrahbashi.

With its unique chemical, mechanical, and thermal characteristics, the applications for the composite are numerous. From safely upgrading nuclear power plants to constructing rocket nozzles, the implications of this innovation stretch far into the future of research and industry.

Additional researchers are from Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Purdue University. The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative funded the study, which researchers conducted in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.



A 13-year-old won $25,000 for a solar-panel invention that can locate the sun at any time

Georgia Hutchinson, 13.
 Society for Science and the Public

By: Peter Kotecki

A 13-year-old scientist from California has won $25,000 for inventing a solar-panel system that can determine where the sun is at any given time.

Georgia Hutchinson, from Woodside, California, took the top prize at the Broadcom Masters nationwide STEM competition for middle-school students. She placed first in a pool of 30 finalists, who received a total of $100,000 in prize money.

The Society for Science & the Public and the Broadcom Foundation, which supported the competition, also gave $1,000 to the STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — program at Hutchinson’s middle school.

Hutchinson’s invention, which she calls a data-driven dual-axis solar tracker, relies on publicly available data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to track the sun and make solar panels more efficient. Instead of using costly sensors, the invention uses a computer program designed to figure out the sun’s location and tilt solar panels for optimal power production.

Hutchinson said she hoped that by helping solar panels produce more energy, the invention would provide an economic incentive for people to invest in solar power. Focusing on renewable resources to reduce our carbon footprint is crucial if we want to avoid extreme weather conditions, she said.

Near Hutchinson’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area, those kinds of weather conditions have led to disaster. In early November, Northern California was hit by the most devastating fire in the state’s history; it killed at least 86 civilians.

“The smoke was so bad that thousands of schools all over the state had to be closed down because of the smoke,” Hutchinson told Business Insider. “We’re seeing right now the effects of climate change, and the data-driven dual-axis solar tracker I built is designed to make solar energy more economical.”

Hutchinson said she was working with a lawyer to get her invention patented, adding that she would use the prize money for her education.

Maya Ajmera, the president and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public, told Business Insider that only 10% of the nearly 80,000 students who present at science fairs are nominated to compete in Broadcom Masters. This year, a group of judges chose 300 contestants from a pool of 2,500 students who applied, then another judging panel narrowed the entries down to 30.

Hutchinson’s project stood out because it used publicly available data and was very accurate, Ajmera said. During a test of the device, the amount of electricity generated was within 5% of what Hutchinson’s computer model predicted.

Ajmera said the society supported the middle-school competition because it targets students during the most impressionable time in their lives.

“We think that this is the time if we can capture kids’ excitement about STEM that that is going to pay huge dividends in the future,” Ajmera said.

After presenting her project at local and state science fairs, Hutchinson traveled to Washington, DC, for the final round of the competition.

“Knowing that people I met at Broadcom Masters will be influencing society in the future is really comforting to me,” Hutchinson said. “I was really inspired by everybody’s passion, and everybody who was wanting to change the world for good and wanting to use STEM for that, regardless of where they came from.”

At home, Hutchinson often finds herself as the only girl in coding classes and other STEM activities, but the DC trip was a chance to spend time with about a dozen other girls who are passionate about STEM, she said.

Hutchinson said she was pushing to make that more common. After being the only girl to join a computer-science elective in elementary school, Hutchinson created a chapter of the nonprofit Girls Who Code to get more of her peers interested in STEM.

Since then, she has also launched a lunchtime design club, where she works with fourth- and fifth-grade girls on various projects, such as designing a hydraulic claw.

“I really want to show people that STEM isn’t just for boys and that girls can do STEM too,” Hutchinson said.



Solar Energy Companies Flocking to Metro East, Illinois

By: Terri Waters

Spurred by record-low equipment costs and state-sponsored incentives, solar installation companies are flocking to Illinois. One of the fast-growing solar markets involves partnering with farmers willing to lease some of their acreage to cultivate solar energy rather than crops.

Dozens or sometimes hundreds of solar panels are lined up in fields, angled to maximize the absorption of the sun’s rays. The energy is transmitted to the nearest power substation and mixed in with the utility’s power supply. It’s become lucrative for both landowners and the solar companies that own and maintain the equipment.

A Minnesota company, Innovative Power Solutions, has several projects in the works in St. Clair County. This week, Belleville issued a special use permit for a four-megawatt installation on land near Eckert’s Farm. The company also got approval from St. Clair County for solar arrays in six locations on a large farm, producing up to 12 megawatts altogether.

The projects are not a done deal, however. IPS is applying for renewable energy credits through the state of Illinois, but the company will need some luck to get them. The program, launched in 2017, has become so popular that the state is moving to a lottery system for the next round of approvals in January.

“There’s a threshold where economics will make it worthwhile,” said Evan Carlson of IPS. “We’re unlikely to move forward if we don’t get the energy credits.”

‘So much growth’

St. Louis-based Straight Up Solar is also pinning its hopes on the Illinois energy lottery. The company contracted with 12 farms in Illinois, for projects sized from one to two megawatts each. The larger ones will have as many as 8,000 panels. This is new territory for the company, as it has mostly done smaller installations of up to 400 panels.

“To date, the market in Missouri has been primarily small commercial and residential because of caps on what you can connect to the grid. In Illinois, the legislation is just now hitting,” said Erin Noble, director of business operations at Straight Up Solar. “That’s why we’re seeing so much growth.”

The solar industry in Missouri is actually larger than in Illinois, producing a total of 167 megawatts versus 90 in Illinois. But experts say that Illinois, ranked 34th nationwide in solar capacity, is poised to grow to 1,856 megawatts in the next five years, putting the state in 11th place and well on its way to meeting the legislation’s goal to get to 3,000 megawatts by 2030.

Missouri, on the other hand, is only predicted to grow to 214 megawatts over the next five years. The state currently ranks 29th in the country for solar capacity.

“Illinois has deregulated the way they make and transmit power so it’s competitive,” said James Owen of Renew Missouri, a lobbying group working to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency. “In Missouri, all aspects are regulated, so utilities have more of a monopoly.”

Owen said the utilities are starting to move toward having solar as part of their portfolio. The price of wind and solar is making it easier, but Missouri “has no real incentives.”

“Our laws don’t make it easy to finance, to use solar, to have it as an option. The laws could be much better in Missouri,” Owen said.

Noble, who is a board member of both Renew Missouri and the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association, said the industry has been working hard to improve the state’s solar policies.

Current laws “are limiting Missouri’s ability to expand solar, and limiting job growth,” she said.PauseCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:00Stream TypeLIVELoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00Fullscreen00:00Mute

Noble added that Missouri prohibits financing to lease solar-energy systems, which also stifles industry growth. “There are smart solar policies that other states have, and we can learn from them,” she said.

Cheaper Solar Prices

Besides the environmental benefits that renewable energy brings, proponents say that switching to solar makes good economic sense. The cost of electricity from solar panels is now lower than the cost of retail electricity for most people, and equipment prices have fallen drastically.

“We’ve seen solar panel prices come down 95 percent. It’s changing the landscape quickly,” said Eric Pasi of IPS, which has been in business for 28 years.

“Renewables used to be expensive but now they’re affordable,” said Peter Gray, spokesperson for the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “Solar and wind are now cheaper than fossil fuels in most parts of the country.”

As a cost-saving measure, a lot of community colleges and universities are looking to build solar, Gray said. “They know they’ll be there, in that location, a long time. The economics work out. They are using rooftops or an open piece of land — all are on the grid but the power they’re producing goes first to their own use.”

Solar Jobs

In 2016, the National Solar Jobs Census found that there 260,000 new jobs in solar were added nationwide. This was twice the number of added workers in 2012. Missouri and Illinois have seen considerable growth as well.

Renewable energy generation is the third-largest clean energy job sector in Missouri with 2,663 solar jobs last year, according to the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs. A report by the two groups shows that 470 jobs were added statewide between 2015 and 2016. Solar energy jobs employ almost three times as many people as do wind energy jobs.

“We’ve grown from 18 to 58 people in the last year and a half, and will get to 70 in next few months,” said Noble, of Straight Up Solar. “That’s pretty reflective of what you’re seeing nationwide. It’s a really cool growth trend. Solar is proliferating faster than cellphones.”

In Illinois, the solar industry employs about 3,570 people. The Future Energy Jobs Act is expected to ramp this number up considerably.

The law, which passed in 2016, requires 4,300 megawatts of new solar and wind power to be built in Illinois by 2030. The state is providing $30 million to create clean energy-related job training programs over the next 12 years in order to support the additional workers that will be needed.

Noble said that a new solar ray is installed every 2.5 minutes in the U.S. “There’s enough solar in the U.S. to power 11 million homes. And that number is anticipated to double in the next five years.”

“There’s so much more that can be done to leverage this huge economic development opportunity,” Noble said.



Upcycled R.I. Waste Sites Now Produce Solar Power

This solar panel field in West Kingston, R.I., is located on a capped waste disposal site. It was developed and is owned by Kearsarge Energy as part of the South Kingstown Solar Consortium, which includes the towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown and the University of Rhode Island. (Nora Lewis/URI)

The University of Rhode Island and the towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett have created the South Kingstown Solar Consortium to develop an ambitious solar-energy project that will boost the amount of renewable energy flowing into the regional power grid.

In the works for more than three years, the project is among the largest solar power initiatives in New England. When complete, it will cover 267 acres in West Kingston, South Kingstown and West Greenwich.

URI and its private, municipal, and state partners unveiled details of the initiative at a Nov. 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites. A similar celebration is planned for the West Greenwich site when it becomes operational.

The consortium solicited proposals from private developers to build and maintain the solar facilities at no net cost to members. It signed 25-year contracts with Kearsarge Solar to develop the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites, and with Energy Development Partners to develop the West Greenwich site.

The capacity of the installations is 40 megawatts, which is expected to deliver 48,000 megawatt-hours of energy to the grid annually — enough energy to power 750 homes and offset the fossil-fuel consumption of 1,500 cars.

The project is also an excellent example of upcycling — a superior secondary use of a product or material, in this case, the land. Of the 42 acres at the West Kingston and South Kingstown locations, 28 are non-farmable, capped waste disposal sites: the former South Kingstown town dump and URI disposal area on Plains Road in West Kingston; and the onetime South Kingstown/Narragansett dump on Rose Hill Road in South Kingstown.

The initiative is a “virtual net metering project,” in which the solar energy generated flows into the electrical supplier’s grid rather than being directly used by any one of the consortium partners, according to David Lamb, assistant director of facilities services and utilities at URI.

State law requires that developers of such projects must be able to offload net metering credits to a public or quasi-public entity; in this case, the consortium members. The value of credits issued is determined by the number of kilowatt-hours generated by the solar facilities times the Public Utilities Commission set rate applicable to solar-generated electricity.

“We are supporting the development of renewable energy that will be supplied to the grid and, in turn, the consortium members receive credits that will reduce costs on their monthly utility bills,” Lamb said.

URI expects to receive credits worth $1.2 million in savings annually on its electric bill when all the sites are operational, according to J. Vernon Wyman, the university’s assistant vice president of business services.

As a consumer of more than 75 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which translates to an annual electric bill of roughly $9.4 million, the university provides its town partners with the assurance that they can transfer their net metering credits to URI if they one day consume less energy than their share of what is generated, alleviating their long-term financial risk while further reducing URI’s energy costs.

For the first 10 years of operation, the private developers receive renewable-energy certificates for the electricity generated that they can trade or sell to offset their costs. The credits are non-tangible commodities, with each one worth one megawatt-hour of electricity generated from a renewable source. In the 11th year of the contracts, these renewable-energy certificates transfer to the consortium members.

“The value of collaboration through the consortium is the ability to manage our consumption and maximize the benefits for the members,” Wyman said.

The West Kingston site includes 14 acres of adjacent open land owned by URI. The solar panels at this location, as well as at the West Greenwich location, which includes a former sand and gravel operation, will be installed on pile-driven structures. All locations will be surrounded by high fences.