At the doorstep of the new Solar Energy Era

Solar Energy

At the doorstep of the new Solar Energy Era

In 2035, the world will be on a sped-up path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eventually become carbon-free by 2050. By then, energy from renewable sources will be headed to become a primary source of energy for energy production and transport in different parts of the world. According to IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre), this will call for sustained technology improvement and sped up deployment from where we are today. In the years up to 2035, the residential and commercial demand for energy will keep on growing, specifically if heating with gas and oil is phased out and replaced by energy. Further, in countries like Belgium, nuclear power plants will no longer be part of the energy mix. Wind and solar energy will have to fill a massive share of the gap. According to recent research, there is enough ability to do so. But to make this reality, wind and solar energy generation will have to grow remarkably, on a sped-up path from where we are today. In tandem, the utilization performance of power will be improved, with buildings insulated to be power-free, heating supplied by heat pumps and heating grids, building-integrated photovoltaic, smarter micro-and nano grids running on DC, and mass power storage.

Inexpensive in comparison of Other Options:

The cost of energy because of solar photovoltaic panels has already gone down incredibly over the past years, and it is expected that it will be further decreased leading up to 2035. That will in most circumstances make solar energy cost-efficient compared to different energy generation, even in countries where the sun doesn’t always shine abundantly. The cost contrast will be even more helpful when we consider that carbon-based energy generation will become progressively more expensive because of carbon taxing schemes.

If we look at the cost of a normal solar photovoltaic setup today, much less than 1/2 of the price is subsumed by the actual panels. The rest is made up of the electronics, support frames, cabling, and manual labor–the so-known as balance-of-system costs (BOS). The potential to further optimize the BOS costs is constrained. So, the most obvious way to make a solar photovoltaic setup more cost-efficient is to have it generate more energy than it does today, mainly by improving the conversion efficiency and power yield of the solar cells and modules.

Efficiencies Growing

Nowadays, conversion efficiencies for industrial silicon solar cells are around about 22%, and the excellent lab result is 25.3%. The physical limit of what can be carried out sits around 30%, so there is still some leeway to improve cells. But as we close in on the limit, the strategies and materials used will become extra costly, seriously eating into the cost gains. Therefore, IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre), a partner in EnergyVille, additionally pursues several alternative paths to increase the performance of solar photovoltaic panels.

One method is to top the silicon solar cells with an additional light-sensitive layer in another material–a second solar cell. An apparent requirement for tandem cells is that the material on top is obvious to the light that it does not convert.

And an extra boost is given if the materials in the stack are sensitive to a distinct part of the light spectrum so that they don’t scavenge on each other’s conversion capability. The material that captures the micro wavelengths (e.g., blue and green) will be on top, while the bottom material converts the longer wavelengths (e.g., red and near-infrared).

In this way, using a top layer made from perovskite crystals, IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre) has already fabricated small solar cells surpassing 27% productivity. By 2035, we envision massive, long-lasting cells with an efficiency of up to 35%.

Along with tandem cells, IMEC’S scientists have looked at some other strategies to further improve PV efficiency. Bifacial solar cells, for instance, capture light on both sides of the cells. They can be used in large-scale installations where the front side of the panels is directed to the sun, but where the backside additionally captures some light that is reflected from the ground. Another technique includes alternative, even dynamic reconfiguration of the solar cells in panels. That way they can be made much less vulnerable to shading, e.g., from the blades of nearby windmills.

Integrating Solar Photovoltaic Everywhere:

The other half of the price equation of a solar photovoltaic panel–the BOS prices–are at first sight more difficult to compress. But there is a way that at the same time opens up a whole new area for the sustainable energy era. One that we envision will be magnificent in 2035. Most modern workplaces, public buildings, and warehouses are clad with large, prefabricated panels, made of glass or opaque materials. These have some features: they form the outer, protective shell, the insulating layer, and they also determine the aesthetics of the building. But what if we’d add an extra feature: generating solar power? But of course, not by mounting general solar modules, which would add to the cost and servicing instead of slashing BOS costs. What we’re looking for instead are facade panels with integrated solar cells, panels that can be fabricated flexibly and value-effectively in a wide variety of looks, shapes, and yields. IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre) and KU Leuven are presently running test setups within the EnergyVille collaboration. They are also looking into the commercial tactics that would allow the computerized manufacturing of panels directly from the architectural drawings. Considering the fact that silicon cells may impose some restrictions on the form and transparency of the panels, we additionally see a remarkable case for thin-film solar cells, another technology that IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre) has been developing through the lens of Solliance Solar Research. Thin-film cells will probably not be as efficient as silicon cells, but they can be made extremely thin, partially transparent or colored, on vast sheets in soft formats, even in bent, twisted appearance.

Smarter grids, with storage:

In 2035, our power grid will be much smarter than it is now. It will comprise collections of nested subnets with at the middle the nano grids of individual buildings, workplaces, public buildings, and homes. These will be subsumed in microgrids, taking in neighboring buildings to form one power district. These separate grids will function as autonomously as possible. They will generate most of the energy they need and take care not to overload the connecting networks, so these don’t have to be oversize. As power era, storage and many of today’s appliances run on DC current, the nano grids will transport DC and only convert it to AC when necessary, heading off much of the losses of today’s AC/DC conversion.

However, there will be a need for storage, in order that the power generated on a sunny day can be used at night time, or when it’s grey and raining. Engineers foresee storage on the level of the homes–residential storage–but additionally on the tiers of the district and higher up. Residential and district storage have to be compact, so it’s going to in all likelihood be composed of improved lithium-ion technology. The cost of such batteries nowadays is coming down fast and is projected to eventually dip underneath 100 euros per kilowatt-hour by 2035. That will allow home storage solutions of 10 kilowatt-hours at around 1,230 dollars.

However, homes and districts will have another form of storage available, and that’s the electric automobiles that by 2035 may additionally have energy packs of 100 kilowatt-hours. As these automobiles will often be idle, charged, and geared up, they can be used to energy home appliances while ensuring that they still have sufficient power left to drive.

In 2035, United States will be on the path of becoming climate neutral 2050, an aim that was recently set. Because of this greenhouse emissions such as CO2 will be largely curbed by powering much of our society with energy generated from non-fossil fuel sources including solar, wind, and nuclear sources–a goal that is technically and practically possible but calls for a large investment and sped up adoption. By 2050, what remains of greenhouse gasses, from commercial techniques and farming, will eventually have to be compensated via carbon capture and utilization technology, taking into consideration that the net CO2 emissions must become negative.

Storage

Looking at storage, (Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre) is laying the foundation for much-advanced battery technology with a higher power density and faster charging times. A primary result is a capability and promising material to serve as a solid-state electrolyte. But further out, the R&D center additionally works on architectures with smaller, lined electrode particles, leveraging its unique understanding in nanomaterials, thin films, and interfaces.

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