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A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy
of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect, which is
a physical and chemical phenomenon. It is a form of photoelectric cell, defined as a device
whose electrical characteristics, such as current, voltage, or resistance, vary when exposed to
light. Individual solar cell devices can be combined to form modules, otherwise known
as solar panels. In basic terms a single junction silicon solar cell can produce a maximum
open-circuit voltage of approximately 0.5 to 0.6 volts.
Solar cells are described as being photovoltaic, irrespective of whether the source
is sunlight or an artificial light. They are used as a photodetector (for example infrared
detectors), detecting light or other electromagnetic radiation near the visible range, or
measuring light intensity.
The operation of a photovoltaic (PV) cell requires three basic attributes:

 The absorption of light, generating either electron-hole pairs or excitons.

 The separation of charge carriers of opposite types.
 The separate extraction of those carriers to an external circuit.

While conventional solar panels, made from silicon cells, continue to have an advantage over
this new solar technology, they remain inflexible, expensive and compared to the newest
innovations, no longer the most efficient option. Dye-sensitized solar cells(DSCs) have a few
other tricks up their sleeve. They are able to work as efficiently at 149 degrees F (65 degrees
C) as at 77 degrees F (25 degrees C), whereas silicon cells lose 20 percent of their energy
efficiency at extreme temperatures.

And because of the wafer-thin and flexible properties, DSC technology can be applied in
ways never considered for conventional cells. Militaries, for instance, have become interested
in Grätzel cells. New tents and fabrics are able to provide up to 1 kilowatt of energy (enough
to power a few lights and a laptop) [source: Tent Manufacturers Marketplace]. And on a
larger scale, flexible solar panels used to cover tents power sophisticated equipment.
Additionally, Grätzel cells could be engineered into wearable photovoltaic cells. Lightweight
wearable solar panels could power and recharge all electrical devices soldiers or Marines
carry, eliminating the need for extra battery packs or bagfuls of batteries in the field.

While DSC technology has new groundbreaking applications, research into other areas of
solar energy shows promise in plastic solar cells -- an idea where layers of titanium oxide are
chemically modified -- that could have energy efficiency levels greater than those seen in
Grätzel cells. Maybe one day not only will the lenses be photovoltaic, but the entire pair
of sunglasses will be an energy source.
 These Self-Energy Converting Sunglasses (SIG) are able to absorb solar energy
through special lenses coated with dye-sensitizing solar cells (DSC). In addition to
being used as a glass-coating dye, these cells can also be turned into low-cost,
lightweight, transparent and flexible sheets.
 Solar cells are engineered in two layers: a photosensitive layer made of ultrathin,
nano-sized semiconductor crystals over a thin layer of titanium dioxide. When
photons from the sun's rays are absorbed by the photosensitive layer, electrons
accumulate on the titanium dioxide, creating an electrical current.
 When solar cells absorb the sun's rays and convert sunlight into electrical energy, it's
called photovoltaics.

Solar technology: what’s new in 2019?

There are two main types of solar technology: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar
power (CSP). Solar PV technology captures sunlight to generate electric power, and CSP
harnesses the sun’s heat and uses it to generate thermal energy that powers heaters or
turbines. With these two forms of solar energy comes a wide range of opportunities for
technical innovation. Here are some of the latest emerging solar panel technologies for 2019:

Solar skin design

One major barrier for the solar industry is the fact that a high percentage of homeowners
consider solar panels to be an unsightly home addition. Luckily, one new venture has a
solution. Sistine Solar, a Boston-based design firm, is making major strides with the concept
of aesthetic enhancement that allow solar panels to have a customized look. The MIT startup
has created a “solar skin” product that makes it possible for solar panels to match the
appearance of a roof without interfering with panel efficiency or production. Sistine Solar’s
skin product was expected to hit U.S. markets in 2018 and will help to rebrand solar panels as
a luxury product, not just a home efficiency upgrade.

Solar powered roads

Last summer paved the way for tests of an exciting new PV technology – solar powered
roads. The sidewalks along Route 66, America’s historic interstate highway, were chosen as
the testing location for solar-powered pavement tech. These roadways are heralded for their
ability to generate clean energy, but they also include LED bulbs that can light roads at night
and have the thermal heating capacity to melt snow during winter weather. The next stop
following sidewalk tests is to install these roadways on designated segments of Route 66.

Wearable solar

Though wearable solar devices are nothing new (solar-powered watches and other gadgets
have been on the market for several years), the past few years saw an innovation in solar
textiles: tiny solar panels can now be stitched into the fabric of clothing. The wearable solar
products of the past, like solar-powered watches, have typically been made with hard plastic
material. This new textile concept makes it possible for solar to expand into home products
like window curtains and dynamic consumer clean tech like heated car seats. This emerging
solar technology is credited to textile designer Marianne Fairbanks and chemist Trisha

Solar batteries: innovation in solar storage

The concepts of off-grid solar and solar plus storage have gained popularity in U.S. markets,
and solar manufacturers have taken notice. The industry-famous Tesla Powerwall, a
rechargeable lithium-ion ion battery product launched in 2015, continues to lead the pack
with regard to market share and brand recognition for solar batteries. Tesla offers two
storage products, the Powerwall 2.0 for residential use and the Powerpack for commercial
use. Solar storage is still a fairly expensive product in 2019, but a surge in demand from solar
shoppers is expected to bring significantly more efficient and affordable batteries to market in

Advances in solar energy: the latest solar

technology breakthroughs
Solar tracking mounts

As solar starts to reach mainstream status, more and more homeowners are considering solar
– even those who have roofs that are less than ideal for panels. Because of this
expansion, ground mounted solar is becoming a viable clean energy option, thanks in part to
tracking mount technology.

Trackers allow solar panels to maximize electricity production by following the sun as it
moves across the sky. PV tracking systems tilt and shift the angle of a solar array as the day
goes by to best match the location of the sun. Though this panel add-on has been available for
some time, solar manufacturers are truly embracing the technology. GTM Research recently
unveiled a recent report that shows a major upward trend in the popularity of tracking
systems. GTM projects a 254 percent year-over-year increase for the PV tracking market this
year. The report stated that by 2021, almost half of all ground mount arrays will include solar
tracking capability.

Advances in solar panel efficiency

The past few years in the solar industry have been a race to the top in terms of solar cell
efficiency, and recent times have been no different. A number of achievements by various
panel manufacturers have brought us to today’s current record for solar panel efficiency:
23.5 percent, held by premium panel manufacturer SunPower.
The solar cell types used in mainstream markets could also see major improvements in cost
per watt – a metric that compares relative affordability of solar panels. Thanks to Swiss and
American researchers, Perovskite solar cells (as compared to the silicon cells that are used
predominantly today) have seen some major breakthroughs in the past two years. The result
will be a solar panel that can generate 20+ percent efficiency while still being one of the
lowest cost options on the market.

Of course, the work doesn’t stop there, as MIT researchers reminded us in May when they
announced new technology that could doublethe efficiency of solar cells overall. The MIT lab
team revealed a new tech concept that captures and utilizes the waste heat that is usually
emitted by solar panels. This typically released and non-harnessed thermal energy is a
setback and opportunity for improvement for solar technology, which means this innovation
could help the cost of solar to plummet even further.

Solar thermal fuel (STF)

There is little debate when it comes to solar power’s ultimate drawback as an energy source:
storage. While the past decade has seen incredible growth of the PV industry, the path
forward for solar involves an affordable storage solution that will make solar a truly
sustainable energy source 24 hours a day. Though solar batteries (mentioned above) are a
storage option, they are still not economically viable for the mainstream. Luckily, MIT
Professor Jeffrey Grossman and his team of researchers have spent much of the past few
years developing alternative storage solutions for solar, the best one appears to be solar
thermal fuels (STFs).

The technology and process behind STFs is comparable to a typical battery. The STF can
harness sunlight energy, store it as a charge and then release it when prompted. The issue
with storing solar as heat, according to the team’s findings, is that heat will always dissipate
over time, which is why it is crucial that solar storage tech can charge energy rather than
capture heat. For Grossman’s team, the latest STF prototype is simply an improvement of a
prior design that allowed solar power to be stored as a liquid substance. Recent years saw the
invention of a solid state STF application that could be implemented in windows,
windshields, car tops, and other surfaces exposed to sunlight.

Solar water purifiers

Stanford University researchers collaborated with the Department of Energy this year to
develop a new solar device that can purify water when exposed to sunlight. The minuscule
tablet (roughly half the size of a postage stamp) is not the first solar device to filter water, but
it has made major strides in efficiency compared to past inventions. Prior purifier designs
needed to harness UV rays and required hours of sun exposure to fully purify water. By
contrast, Stanford’s new product can access visible light and only requires a few minutes to
produce reliable drinking water. As the technology behind solar purifiers continues to
improve, expect these chiclet-sized devices to come to market with hikers and campers in
mind as an ideal consumer audience.
What new solar technology means for homeowners in 2019

For those considering solar panels systems, this long list of solar panel
technology innovations from recent years is nothing but good news. Efficiency upgrades,
storage improvements and equipment capabilities all contribute to more efficient power
output for solar panels and lower costs for systems. Many of the products mentioned in this
article, such as tracking mounts and solar batteries, are available in the EnergySage Solar
Marketplace – all you have to do is indicate your preference for particular equipment options
when you register your property. To get an instant estimate for your home’s potential solar
costs and savings, try our free Solar Calculator.

9 Innovations in Solar PV Technology

When we think of solar panels, chances are we think of roofs or giant arrays of glimmering
panels in the desert. However, advances in photovoltaic (PV) technologies over the last
decade have made possible many more smaller-scale applications for everyday living, on a
more personal level. Improvements in design and configuration, energy storage, efficiency,
and battery size have created opportunities for solar energy in a variety of situations, some of
which you have probably not considered—including off-grid scenarios that can help you
survive emergency situations. Below are nine examples of innovative, low-cost ways solar
energy is being used to enhance our daily lives.


More cities across the world are powering streetlights with solar energy. The sun charges the
batteries during the day, which then powers light-emitting diodes (LEDs) at night to
illuminate the streets. San Diego is incorporating smart sensors into streetlights that can even
direct drivers to open parking spaces and help first responders during emergency situations.
Combining internet-linked sensors with solar powered streetlights saves both time and

Vaccine Refrigerators

In developing countries, 24-hour electricity isn’t guaranteed, and in many cases, there is no
electrical grid. “Private companies have been manufacturing solar-powered vaccine
refrigerators so healthcare workers in remote areas can administer critical medication to those
who need it,” states Charlie Gay, director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office for the
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “This technology solution has
been saving lives for more than four decades.”


Solar ovens—also called solar cookers—reflects the sun’s energy to cook food. Solar cookers
can be parabolic or square structures lined with a reflective material that directs the rays into
the box, where it heats the food evenly. The lid on top is typically made out of glass to better
focus the sun’s rays. They are ideal for off-grid living and often used in developing countries,
which reduces air pollution that results from burning fuel.

Cell-Phone Charger

USB cell phone chargers can charge a phone to almost full after only a few hours exposure to
UV sunlight. These portable solar panels are about the size of a tablet and can also charge
GPS trackers, tablets, or even laptops. They can be hooked on backpacks to collect solar
energy as you walk, making them ideal for outdoor excursions.


Instead of constructing typical solar cells of silicon, “polymers dissolved in a solvent create a
‘paint’ or coating that can be applied to any surface – from homes to offices to cars,” writes
technology writer Stephanie Hicks on Hub Pages. “It’s inexpensive and versatile. Unlike
bulky photovoltaic solar panels, solar paint uses thin-film nanoparticles instead of silicon as
solar conductors. When applied to the sides of structures that face the sun, the thin solar cells
invisibly generate clean, green power.”


Solar-powered tents are essentially larger versions of solar-powered backpacks. The tents
have imbedded photovoltaic cells that store solar energy by day, which is then used to
illuminate the tent at night and charge or power devices and small appliances, including
heaters. The U.S. Army has a version that can generate up to 2 kilowatts of power a day.

Bike Locks

The Ellipse Skylock is the world’s first solar-powered bike lock. It powered by a built-in
solar panel that provides enough power for a week after just one hour of charging. The
Skylock connects wirelessly to the rider’s phone to provide keyless entry, theft detection,
bike sharing, and crash alerts. It also sends an alert if the bike is disturbed, using its long-
range Bluetooth.


Thin-film solar panels attached to the outside of backpacks provide up to about four watts of
power—enough to charge phones, cameras, and other devices while simply walking. These
exterior solar cells can also be attached to briefcases and handbags. These backpacks are
ideal for students, hikers, and campers, who will always have a charged device during their
travels, or when they reach their destination.

Solar Fabric

Solar fabric is an application of solar technology with a wide range of applications. Solar
cells are woven into textile fibers and generate convenient solar electricity. “One version,
created by FTL Solar, can literally be pitched like a tent to provide both shelter and
electricity,” writes Hicks. “Consider the endless possibilities: military, rescue operations,
disaster relief, recreational options, medical units, and even temporary housing. Any place
you need flexible convenient solar power, solar fabric is your answer.”

“Rooftops are just one of thousands of places where solar panels are generating power,” says
Gay. “As costs drop and energy production rises, we expect to see many more places where
solar technologies are put to work—providing unleashed, inexpensive electricity.”