Brief Background on Solar Energy
Some might say the true application of solar energy began in the 1860’s when Auguste Mouchot, a french inventor, created a solar-powered engine by converting solar energy into mechanical steam power.
Since then, widespread research & development has taken place to harness solar energy for various applications. A partial list of solar applications includes space heating & cooling through solar architecture, water treatment through solar distillation, solar cookers, solar lighting and solar water heating amongst others.
Solar Paint – Can it be commercialized?
Like most renewable sources of energy, the challenge with solar energy is not availability, but finding an “effective” method to harness the energy. Solar paint is a relatively new concept that aims to reshape the power industry. Using nanotechnology, solar paint can absorb a large number of light wavelengths onto the photo-voltaic (PV) cells. The paint typically uses third generation solar cells and can be applied to any surface.
NextGen Solar, a startup company, plans to use nano-scale solar paint technology developed by Argonne National Laboratory to produce solar paint that can become commercially viable in the near future. The paint can be used like a normal paint, but when it dries it forms microscopic interconnected solar cells. NextGen Solar claims their paint can hit 40% efficiency and will cost a third of traditional solar PV panels, according to CleanTechnica. Now, although they have received $1 million in funding, they still have a long way to go and this claim is more of a marketing ploy to get more funding.
Tata Steel, on the other hand, is working with researchers at Swansea University to develop a technique to apply solar paint onto the surface of steel panels. Tata Steel, who acquired Corus Group in 2006, aims to produce sheet steel used in roofing for warehouses, offices and other buildings treated with a sensitive coating. They currently apply paint to certain steel products when they are passed through rollers during the manufacturing process so that the paint is ingrained in the steel. The same approach is being used to build up solar cell layers within steel sheets.
If NextGen Solar or Tata Steel can make this commercially viable, it could revolutionize the entire power industry. According to Dr. Worsley, the project leader for the Swansea Solar Paint Project, if all the steel cladding produced by one manufacturer was energy generating, it would be the equivalent of 50 wind farms (or 4500 gigawatts/year) at an efficiency rate of 5%.
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