A Brighter Future with New Solar Panel Designs

By: John Mahoney
The use of solar panels in residences has proved to be the best and most cost-efficient alternative for utility power. However, the use of solar power has yet to reach its full potential in the residential market. Recent advances in technology can possibly change this, as the industry has seen opportunities to create solar panels with new designs, in terms of both aesthetics and functionality.

Aesthetically-pleasing designs

Solar power has only recently been given a great deal of attention. As a result, residential homes built 10, 20, or 30 years ago were not constructed in such a way that solar panels could be later added if the resident family decides to install some.

Previously, solar panels were very thick and had to be mounted with out-of-place brackets on top of existing roofs. Fortunately, the solar panel manufacturer industry has recently realized that poor aesthetics is one of the main reasons why solar power has not completely made its way into the residential market.

New panels are hardly noticeable. The tiles are seamlessly integrated into the existing roofs of residential homes, which achieve a very elegant look. The rise in number of solar installations in the U.S. rose by an amazing 45% in 2007 is widely attributed to the creation of more aesthetically-pleasing panel designs.

There are a number of companies that have already come up with more aesthetically-pleasing solar panel designs. The Sun Power Corporation, for example, the leading U.S. solar panel manufacturer, has created some panels that are compatible with Mediterranean-styled clay tiles and flat roof tiles. Lumeta, another manufacturer, has design panels that are awaiting industry certification.

The panels made by both Sun Power and Lumeta are made from silicon. The market will soon see thinner panels made of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). As of now, however, such panels are less efficient than the currently existing silicon ones. Sometime in the near future, these thin-film panels are expected to dominate residential use by becoming a standard part of the building process.

Highly functional designs

One example of a new, more functional solar panel design is that recently designed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute. This innovative design allows the panels to absorb more sunlight, enabling them to produce up to 60 times more current. This new design makes use of nano-towers that add significant surface area to the solar panels, giving the particles of light from the sun more chances to strike the part of the cell that produces electricity.

However, these new panels still have a couple of kinks yet to be worked out. These new panel designs have too much resistance in their cells, resulting in an inability to generate the kind of electricity needed.

Jud Ready, senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and creator of this new solar panel design, is determined to work on the design and modify its features to resolve the difficulties within it. The US Air Force is currently partially sponsoring the research in high hopes that these smaller and more efficient solar panels will replace old, bulky ones and can eventually be used to power satellites and spacecrafts in the future.

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