A solar panel bendy enough to wrap round a pencil?
A shining hope for a fossil-fuel-free future, scientists and engineers are pushing solar to ever more ingenious and efficient feats of renewable energy generation.
Giant solar parks are sprouting across the world’s sunniest countries. Of these, perhaps Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants, such as the one above, deserve the most enthusiasm.
An array of concentric mirrors focus the sun’s energy on the top of a central tower, super-heating the water within to create steam, which drives a turbine and so generates 100% clean electricity. The reason for the excitement? The steam can be released gradually, as from a pressure cooker, to keep that turbine spinning during cloudy periods and way into the night!
One of the reasons solar photovoltaic power is predicted to take over the world is that it is ‘scalable’ in a way no other power source can be. What do we mean by that? Well, solar power cells can be built as great sheets in vast multi-hundred-megawatt power plants covering square miles of desert. They can also be scaled down to less than the width of a human hair...
Flexible enough to wrap round a pencil, these solar cells are just one micrometre thick. That’s really, really ridiculously thin and yet they produce as much energy as standard thickness, glass-fronted cells.
Light enough to lay atop a soap bubble, this similar experiment from researchers at MIT demonstrated minute, bendy solar cells that could be integrated into almost any material or surface.
And for something completely different, check out this bio-solar wallpaper.
Certain bacteria produce energy from sunlight – photosynthesize – in the same way as plants. A team of researchers have discovered how to use ordinary inkjet printers to layer energy-generating cyanobacteria over conductive carbon nanotubes to create living, breathing paper solar cells!
While folks work out how we can make use of these amazing discoveries, away from the lab, practical solar technology is booming. This award-winning project is hands-down our favourite, though:
The world’s first solar train has begun plying a three-kilometre route through the Australian beach resort of Byron Bay. Restored from a derelict heritage train (a lovely bit of recycling!), solar panels on the roofs of the train, stations and the train storage sheds harvest enough energy from the sun to operate the line 100% emission-free, as well as putting enough surplus energy back into the grid to power 17 homes for a year.
Gosh. And if taking on all that solar information has left you needing to replenish your blood sugar, you couldn’t eat much more apt than a taste of Solar Honey.
Part of a movement to turn thousands of acres of land under and around solar farms into pesticide-free, native wildflower habitat, Minnesota-based Bolton Bees now produce an exclusive honey from hives placed in and amongst the solar cells.