Harnessing the power of the sun: five impressive solar-power innovations

ARTICLE

Harnessing the power of the sun: five impressive solar-power innovations

Cutting-edge technology and rising consumer awareness is driving innovation in the renewable energy sector. Here, we round up a selection of solar-powered solutions for a new generation

By 2050, Dubai wants to meet 75 per cent of its energy needs from clean sources and to have the world’s lowest carbon footprint. To achieve these targets, we all need to play our part in lowering electricity consumption and adopting more sustainable lifestyles.

Renewable technologies are evolving rapidly and ahead of the Dubai Solar Show, held at Dubai World Trade Centre in October, we have profiled some of the best new innovations in the solar industry.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics

Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) is a hot topic in design circles right now. In simple terms, the technology incorporates solar-generating components into windows, walls and roofs, turning a building’s structural elements into power producers. BIPV can be used on new builds and, particularly in the case of windows and skylights, to retrofit existing properties, helping homeowners achieve partial independence from the power grid.
If you want to see what BIPV looks like, visit Dubai Electricity & Water Authority’s new headquarters, which is currently under construction in Al Jadaf. The building is due to open next year and is intended to be a net zero energy structure thanks to its use of sustainable technology.
BIPV can be built into any structure such as car parks, bus stops, office blocks and homes. When used on roofs, they are embedded in the structure, unlike rooftop PV panels, which are attached to the building.
The various technologies behind BIPV are evolving rapidly, and we are going to hear a lot more about them in the coming years. BIPV is still costly, but as with rooftop solar, prices should fall as they become more widely used.
“BIPV has huge potential in the region,” says Kanav Duggal, research manager at the Middle East Solar Industry Association. “In particular, I can see the windows and façades being increasingly used in special projects.”

Solar skins

If you are a homeowner who has been put off by the ugly appearance of rooftop solar panels, you are not alone. Engineers in the US, however, have devised a solution that makes it possible for solar panels to be customised to your roof without impacting their performance.
Using a solar skin – a thin film printed with ultra-durable graphics – solar panels can blend in with the design of your roof. The technology is already on the market.
“We are used to solar being ugly, out-of-the-box, industrial-looking systems,” says Anoop Babu head of renewable energy, distributed systems at Intec, an engineering and consultancy firm. “But that is changing; technological development means that so much more is possible now.”
Aesthetic solar is set to become a buzzword as manufacturers strive to make solar more attractive to homeowners. Solar roof tiles and shingle are also now available.

Solar electric vehicle charging

Electric vehicles are seen as the future of sustainable transport. Governments the world over are encouraging the purchase of plug-in cars as they try to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Here in Dubai, for instance, the Roads & Transport Authority is providing free parking and exemptions from registration fees and Salik charges for owners of electric vehicles. By 2030, it is hoped that 10 per cent of all vehicles on the road in the emirate will be electric or hybrid.
Recognising that cars powered by electricity made from fossil fuels make little sense environmentally, the manufacturers of electric vehicles have been turning their attentions to solar powered charging.
Now, with a rooftop solar system, an inverter and a battery, it is possible to charge your electric car at home using the sun’s energy. More cost effective though, and probably more practical for Dubai, are residential electric charging stations, where the community installs the technology for everyone to share. The solar panels can then be installed on shading structures over walkways and in car parks to achieve a much larger surface area.
“Here in Dubai we have the advantage of being able to look at things on a community level,” says Babu. “We can do a lot of projects, such as roof top solar, solar car parks, vehicle charging, solar street lighting and so on.”

Solar paint

There are various types of solar paint in development, some use perovskite cells, while others work by generating hydrogen from sunlight and moist air, which is then used to charge fuel cells. But they all serve to turn any surface into a clean source of energy.
Perovskite is a new word in the solar industry. The cells are flexible and easy to produce and can be painted, sprayed or even printed onto a surface. Compared with installing rooftop solar systems, these innovative paints have the potential to be a cheaper and less complicated method of harnessing the sun’s energy. Unfortunately, solar paint is still some years away from commercial development, but it is coming.

Solar powered bricks

Solar lights have been around for decades. We have all bought them and often been disappointed by their effectiveness. But technology has moved on, and the latest design feature for the garden is solar powered bricks.
The bricks can be added to pathways or dotted around the garden to create a mellow atmosphere after the sun goes down and to embolden the landscaping. Embedded into pathways, they are much more practical and appealing than the spike-mounted solar lamps that were once so fashionable. There are all manner of styles and colours of bricks, depending on the mood you want to create. You can even buy solar powered stones. Solar powered bricks are the easiest and most affordable way to incorporate solar into your home.

Topics

  • Solar
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sustainability
  • Innovation