Urbanization, population growth, energy security concerns, and economic developmental objectives are the main reasons for depletion of conventional energy sources. Consequently, there is an increase in usage of non-conventional sources of energy that are renewable like solar, wind, geothermal, and energy from biomass.
As a result of technological innovation in renewable energy, the cost of renewable energy has declined significantly in recent years. For example, the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules is estimated to have dropped by 70% between 2008 and 2014, and this has resulted in a substantial increase in adoption of solar power. Moreover, there are growing interests from China as it is already the largest producer of solar equipment globally, and it is poised to be the leading country in solar power adoption in the future.
A major component of the solar energy market is light-driven silicon based PV technology that is unable to generate power during night or on cloudy days and therefore, yields poor efficiency rates. Nonetheless, technology innovation is driving the efficiency improvement by using infrared-based PV that allows harnessing the infrared (IR) part of the solar spectrum. Such PV cells can work much efficiently even in the presence of clouds or at night.
Introduction: IR based solar cells
The IR- based solar cell is made of carbon nanotubes (CNT) that effectively captures sunlight in the near-infrared region. CNT-based PV cells are transparent to visible light and can be overlaid on conventional solar cells, opening up the possibility of harnessing the entire range of solar spectrum.
Importantly, IR based PV has an efficiency rate of more than 50 percent as compared to conventional efficiency rate of only 11 to 15 percent. The increase in the efficiency makes IR based PV ideal for large scale deployment which will result in consistent energy generation and 24-hour operations.
In addition to efficiency advantage, IR based PV provides similar benefits or advantage of conventional solar PV; generation of in-situ baseload and income generation via feed-in-tariff.
Global Focus on Solar
The aftermath of Fukushima mishap in 2011 saw Japan steering sharply toward renewable technologies; the country aims at generating 28 GW of solar power by 2020. Moreover, Japan, Taiwan, and China are expected to contribute more than 70 percent of the global solar PV production. These three countries are the high potential production centers with mature PV industry and CNT technology. This gives other global participants such as the United States and Germany a run for their money.
Attractive demand centers for IR based solar cells are likely to come from giant economies such as India and China. China, which produces more than half the world’s supply of solar panels, is focusing on its internal needs for clean energy. In fast urbanizing country such as India where power disruption is common, it is more feasible to install local solar energy plants as greenfield projects due to its large availability of land.
Moreover, price of electricity can make or break the overall solar industry. For example, the price of electricity from Japan’s power grid is higher than price of electricity from solar cells, making the country a ready market for use of solar cells. In countries with generally low electricity tariff, it is often usual that the adoption of solar energy is an uphill task with additional institutional and regulatory challenges.
Opportunities and Challenges
IR based solar panels are a step toward efficient utilization of available solar energy. Besides 24-hour function and efficiency, IR based PV cells are smaller in size when compared to conventional solar panel of similar capacity. Additionally, production cost of IR-based solar panels from carbon nanotubes is considerably lesser than visible-light based solar panels from silicon.
The main challenge for market participants of IR based solar panels is the insufficient infrastructure for its implementation, as currently light based solar market is at the pinnacle of its growth. However, as the overall solar market continues to grow, the readiness for adoption of IR based solar panels is expected to be better in the next five years.
Case Study: Solaxess- White Solar technology
Solaxess, a Swiss-headquartered company, specializes in PV products, or building integrated PV (BIPV) to be specific. The technology used by it converts IR part of solar light into electricity while rendering the solar panel with different colors. For this it uses selective scattering filter to transmit the IR light and scatter the whole visible spectrum. This scattering of white light is necessary to give the panel a white or colored appearance, which is achieved by embedding a Nano-filter on a micro structured surface.
Solaxess demonstrates best practices in innovating IR based PV in terms of efficiency, and to be uniquely different from other available solar panels in the market.
Overall, the renewable solar energy market is expected to experience continuous shift in innovation and advancements. Japan and other emerging economies such as in India and China will proactively drive a sustained increase in the adoption of solar energy.
With IR based solar panels in market, the production cost of solar power is expected to be drastically reduced. In fact, by combining it with conventional solar cells, end users may be able to harness most of the solar energy efficiently and effectively. As such several action items are relevant to the stakeholders in the market value chain:
- Evolution of business model and solution portfolio
- Ease of policies to encourage mass adoption of solar technologies
- Awareness creation on cost and benefits