Twenty years ago, solar panels on residential homes were virtually non-existent. In today’s age, they’re becoming more and more prevalent. That’s due to several factors, including plummeting costs, advances in tech, and more. Homeowners also have some attractive incentives to go solar, including tax breaks and lower utility bills.
By the end of Q3 2020, the US had enough solar panels to power an impressive 16.4 million homes. While that trend slowed a bit recently due to component shortages, it’s sure to continue to rise in the future. A lot is happening in the world of solar energy lately, including some exciting new research. As efficiencies in technology continue to improve, prices will continue to fall. As such, solar power will become more accessible to residential homes in America. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments related to solar panels and renewable energy.
NREL and Improving Solar Panel LID Defects
As of October 2021, researchers at the US Department of Energy have been designing improvements for solar panels. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory partnered with the Colorado School of Mines to do so. Their goal is to develop a new technique to identify defects in silicon solar cells. These defects are what cause significant drops in a solar panel’s efficiency. That’s known as light-induced degradation (LID), and it’s long been a problem for solar panels.
Researchers are working at the atomic level to identify LID defects in silicon solar panels. Light-induced degradation can strip the efficiency of a solar panel by 2%. While that may not seem like much, it does a lot to wear away at a panel’s typical 30-40 year lifespan. Solar panels made from silicon make up more than 96% of the panels on the market today. The potential improvements that the team at the NREL can create from their research are massive. If they can discover a way to combat LID, they can revolutionize the way manufacturers strengthen their solar panels.
Bringing Solar Technology Indoors
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are finding indoor uses for solar. Doing so would significantly increase the energy efficiency of buildings and smart devices. NIST researchers used a series of small modular PV devices made of different materials. The goal was to test the indoor charging capabilities of these devices. To do so, they hooked up the lowest efficiency module to a wireless temperature sensor.
The results were exciting. The silicon module, absorbing light from an LED, could supply more power than it consumed. That suggests that the device could run indefinitely while the lights stay on. That would remove the need for exchanging or recharging batteries. In the past, flipping on a light switch meant expending energy. With the recent discoveries at NIST, flipping a light switch can mean producing energy too.
The world continues to move toward a transition to renewable energy. Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and solar technology is improving all the time. It’s easier now more than ever for a homeowner to install solar panels.