Innovations in Solar Technology That Could Change the Future

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

Renewable energy has soared in demand in the last few years. Businesses and consumers see its benefits over burning fossil fuels, which harm the environment with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The most common green power sources today are solar and wind.

Solar power has become more prevalent through panels and other devices that help buildings conserve energy. However, panels are only the tip of the iceberg. These six innovations show how solar technology can change the future of residential and commercial buildings.

6 Promising Innovations in Solar Technology

Innovations in Solar Technology: Black balloon over a green field under a blue sky

1. Solar Balloons

Solar balloons are among the most exciting innovations. They use solar radiation to heat themselves and start to float, much like a hot air balloon. What can you use solar balloons for? You may have seen them on the market as a toy, but there are practical uses for renewable energy.

Solar balloons can be an effective tool for generating power, utilizing both solar and wind. Most of them are dark-colored, so they absorb the sun’s heat much easier. They harness solar energy as they rise in the sky and manipulate wind energy when they come down. Researchers have also explored using solar balloons for planetary exploration because they’d be accessible on Mars and Venus.

Homes and buildings can also take advantage of solar balloons. One drawback of panels is their lower effectiveness when it’s cloudy outside. Balloons can mitigate the problem by rising above the clouds, ensuring that weather won’t hinder them. Some solar systems use a combination of panels and balloons to maximize energy potential.

2. Solar Windows

Many building owners look to their windows when looking for energy-efficient upgrades. They are practical tools for conserving energy because they reflect heat from the outside, keeping the interior cool and reducing power consumption. What if the windows themselves could produce power? That’s what researchers aim to do with solar windows.

Solar windows may be hard to identify because they look like regular ones, but they’re sheets of glass that can harness the sun’s energy. The first solar windows came from Michigan State University nearly a decade ago, and now retailers have started to sell them for commercial use. You can significantly increase your building’s energy efficiency by using solar windows to generate power.

Sketch illustrating sun angle at different times of the year
Illustrates solar altitude in New York over a year. Based on
Credit: Hartz, Own work

3. Passive Solar Design

Solar technology typically involves devices you install into a home or building, but passive solar design is a growing trend. This idea uses the building’s location in relation to the sun to determine its design. Most importantly, passive solar dictates where the windows are to let the sun in. Passive design can significantly affect U.S. energy consumption, and many businesses are willing to pay up to 20% more for office space in a certified green building.

Say a developer has decided on a plot of land to build a home. They will construct the house with south-facing windows to maximize direct gain for passive solar. Sun will enter the home most of the day, providing light and thermal mass. South-facing windows are helpful in the winter because they keep the interior warm. In the summer, many use blinds and blackout curtains to mitigate excessive heat gain.

4. Solar Paint

Windows aren’t the only place you can capture the sun’s energy. One of the next significant innovations in renewable energy will be solar paint. The paint you see on buildings will soon be able to harness the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity for the power grid. Solar paint isn’t viable enough for commercial use, but its development over the next few years can change how buildings worldwide operate.

Solar paint is liquid like typical paint but contains photovoltaic cells. One example includes perovskite, a mineral containing calcium titanate. Perovskite makes it easy for the paint to harness the sun’s energy. Other options contain titanium oxide to break down hydrogen and oxygen particles. The paint uses hydrogen to generate renewable energy for the building.

5. Infrared Spectrum Solar Panels

Solar panels have become much more popular in the last two decades. The U.S. government and other legislative bodies worldwide have pushed panels and offered financial incentives for citizens to purchase them. For example, the U.S. provides a 30% tax credit for installing them on homes and commercial buildings. What if these panels could become even more energy efficient?

Infrared spectrum solar panels are one invention that will build upon these innovations.

They go beyond the capabilities of the typical photovoltaic systems you’ll see on houses and buildings nationwide. The average solar panel harnesses energy well, leaving some on the table. They can increase their efficiency using infrared light.

Most companies producing solar panels use silicon because it’s inexpensive and long-lasting. Pairing silicon with near-infrared and red waves maximizes the panels’ efficiency compared to far-infrared waves or microwaves that produce weak currents. In contrast, green or blue photons pack too much energy for the silicon. Using red and infrared waves means the silicon can have better electric currents and make the most out of photons instead of wasting them.

Floating photovoltaic on an irrigation pond
Far Niente vineyard in Napa Valley, California; a floating solar system (top, “flotovoltaic”) erected on the winery’s irrigation pond
Credit: SolarWriter – Own work

6. Floating Solar Farms

Energy demand is rising in the U.S. and worldwide. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that global energy consumption will increase by 50% over the next quarter century. Solar panels will be a significant part of the energy future, but how will countries keep up with the demand? One solution is solar farms, but how can companies construct them without harming the environment? Clearing land would destroy habitats and lead to CO2 emissions.

One environmentally conscious solution is floating solar farms. As the name suggests, these systems operate above land and water, so they don’t disturb ecosystems. Many countries have used them in the ocean. Floating solar farms are excellent for connecting countries with numerous islands, such as Indonesia or the Philippines, and they’ll be able to power hundreds of homes and businesses.

Some are concerned with how water affects solar panels. Bad weather can negatively affect floating solar farms if the waves get rough, but organizations have constructed them to use the water to their advantage. It cools the solar panels, thus improving their ability to generate power.

Solar Becomes a Big Part of the Future

The 2020s are a critical decade for renewable energy. Scientists have clarified that significant changes are necessary to combat climate change. Governments and companies worldwide are heavily investing in green power to prevent irreversible damage to the planet.

Solar energy is among the chief advancements. Soon, you’ll see solar in numerous parts of your life, such as paint, windows and more. The sun provides immense amounts of energy, so it’s wise for humans to take advantage.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.