It is at once the most predictable and most powerful symbol of life on our planet. If you stare at it for too long you risk going blind. If you fly too close, the stories suggest you will fall from the sky. It is of course the sun. And now it’s at the heart of disruption unlocking innovation in our power industry.
At the turn of the century solar power accounted for just 1GW of total installed capacity globally. By 2017, it is estimated it could account for over 400GW. Solar power is facing an increasingly sunny future right here in Malaysia, with net metering , self-generated power and large-scale solar projects a growing reality across the nation.
This solar explosion is built on the back of innovation towards a technology that is increasingly flexible, and increasingly economically viable. Some analysts suggest that solar will become a cheaper source of power than coal within the next decade. So let’s explore some of the most intriguing innovations that illuminate this sunny period in the power industry.
1) Integrated buildings with seamless solar style
The new wave of solar goes beyond disruptive innovation to embrace stylish design as part of the energy revolution. Just look at these eye-catching solar roof tiles, an exciting invention being marketed by green energy giants Tesla in the USA.
Such innovations aren’t alone, with building integrated PVs(BIPVS) becoming one of the more exciting spaces in the solar market. Today’s opportunities include everything from solar windows to integrated solar bricks that form the building blocks of your home. By combining the stylish ability for solar panels to blend in to the traditional look of a building, this kind of innovation exemplifies how seamless solar technology can be with the way we live our lives.
2) Portable solar panels that offer disaster relief
Solar offers the ability to generate power using simple and well-established technologies anywhere with access to direct sunlight. That can be a game-changer in life or death situations of disaster and emergency relief.
Innovation emerging from the UK has led to the development of Rapid Roll solar panels that present the perfect opportunity to deliver rapidly deployed solar power to high-risk areas. This instant power can ensure everything from lighting for schools to urgent power required for medical procedures.
Relief agencies are already adopting solar as an important power solution in the event of disasters, with charities such as Luminaid using the simple power of solar lighting and charging as a vital support during emergency situations.
3) Empowering communities with portable power
Solar power not only unlocks access to electricity, it can be the catalyst for empowering whole communities. The portable solar kiosk, recently trialled in parts of Africa, offers a platform for microbusiness possibilities that not only helps provide power to communities that lack access, but jobs that provide a catalyst for wider business opportunity.
Increasingly innovators are adapting these types of technologies to meet local needs in areas they are deployed. Portable solar technology Solar Turtle offered a solar power solution to schools in South Africa. The technology was specifically designed to support education while offering increased security that prevented damage from vandals or thieves from stealing the technology.
4) Sustainable solar with positive environmental impact
In the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, solar power is going further to provide support for sustainable environments. The natural wonder of the Amazon is under constant threat of development for everything from logging to power production. Solar power is increasingly being used as a low impact, local solution to help support rural communities without the need for extensive and damaging infrastructure.
These microgrid solar solutions go further to empower indigenous communities to better guard the sanctity of the rainforest. Solar power enables indigenous nations to actively and easily communicate with the outside world, providing improved safety and increased oversight of any potential threats to their communities or the forests around them.
5) Travelling on sun power
Our final innovation is a little more future-aspiration than modern day reality. Solar innovation could well be unlocking the automobiles of the future, as solar panels become an increasingly viable technology to power our transportation. The recent World Solar Championship, which takes place in Australia each year, revealed a winning entry which happily transported 5 individuals across 3,000 kilometres utilising just 48 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
With electric vehicle(EV) technology itself providing a huge disruption to the future of automotive transport, the potential to combine solar PV technology with the predicted 260+ million EVs on our roads by 2040 could well be one of the most disruptive changes yet to come.