News & Press Releases
The technology around us is constantly changing. As soon as you get the newest version, something bigger and better is released leaving you with yesterday’s fad. In the world of big screens, computers and smart phones it’s hard to have the latest tech gadgets because something new is always just around the corner to make your present model obsolete. So why wouldn’t solar panel technology have the same sort of turnover?
Just like every other industry, there is always a new idea floating around photovoltaics. Since its invention sixty years ago, photovoltaic (solar electric) cells have changed relatively little. Increases in conversion efficiencies make up the largest portion of technological innovations and have occurred mainly because of enhancements in crystalline silicon formation. These innovations have made polycrystalline modules closer in efficiency to their monocrystalline counterparts; making them the cost effective solution for most residential applications. Even as new models of panels are released, their specifications and appearances stay relatively the same. Therefore it’s safe to buy the present models because even if a new one comes out next year, odds are it’ll be practically identical to the old version.
This doesn’t mean the photovoltaic industry is void of any interesting innovations though! Most innovations just don’t hit market for 5 or more years. The past 10 years have seen an explosion in ideas for photovoltaics. Many of these have been on the manufacturing and communications side although there was one substantial panel remodel.
The panel remodel was a cylindrical PV collector, the hopes was this could replace traditional flat plate collectors on horizontal commercial rooftops. Unlike traditional panels, these collectors could utilize both direct and diffuse light, meaning if the rooftop was painted white, the reflection of light from the rooftop could create electricity just like the direct light from the sun. Since these panels are new and expensive, and most residential rooftops have a pitch greater than zero, it’s unlikely homeowners will invest in these for their homes. But, it could potentially be a cost effective solution in larger commercial applications.
Innovations in manufacturing have made the wafer creation process more cost effective. These innovations have also improved purity levels in wafers making polycrystalline cells comparable to monocrystalline. The decrease in panel prices can, in part, be attributed to the decrease in manufacturing costs from these innovations.
Finally, are the advances in communications technology. PV system monitoring used to be a guessing game. Now, most inverters come standard with some sort of monitoring system. At the most rudimentary level you can see your instantaneous and cumulative power output of your system right on the inverter. But advanced communication and monitoring now give system owners access to all their system data via cable or wireless internet. Some even have the capability to send data, graphics and summaries directly to your smart phone. That means next time you want to show your friends how well your system is performing, you could just pull out your smartphone and directly access up to the minute information being fed from your inverter.
Technical advances show the interesting ways in which an industry is growing and adapting with competition and demand. Whether through materials, manufacturing, communications, or efficiency, solar, just like any other industry, is always changing to make products better and more cost effective for their customers.