Emerging Trends & Innovations  Shaping Solar Power

Emerging Trends & Innovations  Shaping Solar Power
Source: Case Study on Complete Roof BIPV Implementation, The Novartis Campus Integrates Comprehensive Roof BIPV Solution.

Floating solar is emerging as a dynamic segment within the renewable energy sector, with projections indicating the global floating solar market will exceed six gigawatts by 2031.

A Nature journal study suggests that installing solar panels on 30% of the world's 115,000 reservoirs could yield 9,434 terawatt hours annually, more than triple the EU's 2021 energy production of 2,785.44 terawatt hours. Meanwhile, University of Cambridge researchers are developing 'floating factories' with artificial leaves that convert sunlight, water, and CO2 into green fuel, aiming for industrial-scale production.

Significant projects like Amarenco's 4.8 MW plant in Montpezat d'Agenais, France, which saves 250 tonnes of CO2 annually, and innovative offshore ventures like the Merganser project by SolarDuck and RWE in the Dutch North Sea, underscore the technology's promise for sustainable energy production.

Duke Energy initiated a pioneering floating solar array project in Florida, comprising an almost 1 MW array on a two-acre cooling pond with over 1,800 bifacial panels, capable of generating 10%-20% more electricity by capturing light on both sides. Commissioned in December 2023 after beginning construction in March, this project forms part of Duke Energy’s Vision Florida program, aiming to integrate new technologies like green hydrogen into the grid for a cleaner energy future, while also advancing the company's commitment to a net-zero carbon emissions pathway.

In 2023, Duke Energy unveiled a groundbreaking floating solar initiative, setting panels afloat to capture sunlight over water. Photo: Duke Energy

Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics (VIPV) is revolutionizing the transportation sector by embedding solar panels into cars, planes, trucks, and ships, enhancing their range and efficiency.

Commercial ventures like Toyota and Hyundai have already introduced VIPV in their models, while innovative startups like SonoMotors and Lightyear are pushing the envelope further.

EneCoat Technologies and Toyota Motor are collaborating to develop perovskite solar cells for VIPV, aiming for renewable energy self-sufficiency and carbon neutrality by integrating EneCoat's advanced perovskite cell technologies with Toyota's solar panel vehicle technologies, alongside plans for mass production using a proprietary low-temperature coating process for high-efficiency modules.

OPES Solar Mobility has chosen Zwenkau, Germany, for its new factory to produce solar panels for commercial vehicles and camper vans, with construction starting this year for a facility spanning over 12,000 square meters, aiming to equip hundreds of thousands of vehicles annually and becoming operational by year-end, highlighting its specialization in lightweight, flexible solar panels developed in collaboration with Fraunhofer Institutes.

The aviation sector is not left behind, with the Swiss Solar Impulse Foundation's solar plane achieving flight day and night without fuel, and the SolarStratos project aiming for the stratosphere, showcasing VIPV's vast potential across various modes of transportation.

Emerging solar applications in transportation, such as solar bike paths, roads, and railways, are gaining traction. In the Netherlands, two solar bike paths covering 1000m2, with 21% efficiency per square meter, are set to generate 160 MWh/year. Meanwhile, innovations like Sun-ways' solar 'carpet' on Swiss railway tracks and Deutsche Bahn's tests on solar railway sleepers in Germany illustrate the expanding horizon of solar integration in infrastructure, promising a sustainable future with limitless potential.

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) represents an innovative trend in solar energy, blending aesthetics with functionality by integrating solar modules into the structural elements of buildings, such as façades, windows, and roof tiles.

The global BIPV market, valued at USD 19 billion in 2022 and USD 23.18 billion in 2023, is expected to soar to approximately USD 143.99 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 22.5% between 2023 and 2032, with Europe holding the largest market share of 40% in 2022.

Unlike traditional rooftop solar panels, BIPV systems are an intrinsic part of a building's architecture, enhancing its design while generating onsite renewable energy.

Noteworthy examples in Europe, like La Seine Musicale in Paris and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin’s BIPV laboratory, underscore the technology's potential.

Emphasizing BIPV innovation, the Seine Musicale by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines features a dynamic solar panel sail, merging cutting-edge solar technology with traditional timber framing for sustainable brilliance. Photo: IStock

The latter, pioneering in its field, features 360 copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar panels that generate 29-30 kWh of energy yearly, enough to power up to 12 family flats. With the EU's recent push towards solar innovation, including a landmark rooftop solar standard, BIPV is poised for significant growth, offering sustainable solutions for new constructions and the renovation of historical buildings, thereby transforming the solar market's landscape.

Japanese chemical company Kaneka aims to triple its annual production capacity of BIPV to 300,000 sq. meters by 2030, targeting the growing demand for renewable energy solutions in urban settings, with plans to expand its factory in Toyooka and potentially build a new one. These high-performance solar cells, developed in collaboration with Taisei, can replace windows or serve as exterior walls, aligning with global BIPV market projections of reaching $54.8 billion by 2028. The initiative is supported by the Japanese government's plan to subsidize up to two-thirds of BIPV installation costs from fiscal 2024, amidst efforts by Kaneka and other Japanese firms to innovate with perovskite solar cells, aiming to enhance the affordability and adoption of BIPV technologies.

Kaneka's solar façade represents the future of urban sustainability, combining high-performance BIPV cells with innovative design to meet the surging demand for renewable energy in cityscapes. Photo: Taisei

RMIT University has developed groundbreaking software to simplify the integration of BIPV into architectural designs, overcoming traditional barriers associated with the complexity and sourcing of BIPV technology in Australia. The "BIPV Enabler" tool, created by a team led by Associate Professor Rebecca Yang, is designed to assist architects and engineers in incorporating solar features, such as roof tiles and windows that double as solar panels, early in the design process. This innovative software, which includes Australia's first photovoltaic product database, facilitates the creation of 3D models, detailed lifecycle simulations, and makes sustainable, solar-powered building designs more accessible and efficient, promising a new era of energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing buildings.