Environment

A solar innovator predicts the top 5 trends in solar’s future

Electrek spoke with Derya Baran, assistant professor of material science and engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, about solar trends.

Baran’s work pushes boundaries in the solar sector, including inventing inkjet-printed solar panels so light they can rest on a soap bubble and the creation of a two-sided, tandem solar cell. She was recognized by the MIT Technology Review as a 2020 Innovator Under 35 in the MENA region.

We asked Baran what she sees as the top 5 future solar trends. This is what she said.

New materials will push the boundaries of what solar panels can do

  • For years, silicon has been the dominant material for solar panels, representing over 95% of the market. But new materials, organics, perovskites, and integrated photovoltaic cells that combine different materials are opening up new horizons in terms of efficiency. For example, two-sided solar cells that combine the best of perovskite and silicon technologies can gather light reflected and scattered from the ground.
  • These new materials will push boundaries and allow development of new areas where silicon cannot be utilized. Organic photovoltaics will allow solar panels to move off rooftops into other areas of a building, such as curtain walls, roof tiles (like Tesla’s offering), skylights, facades, and railings.
  • These developments will also further boost developments in the battery field.

Controlled agricultural environments

  • We will see farmers use solar technologies for things like net negative energy greenhouses. These will be made possible by increases in efficiency but also by new materials, like self-cooling greenhouses powered by solar energy.
  • Another example will be sustainable desert agriculture, where tech is used for cooling energy. The concept of agrivoltaics, where land is used jointly for food production and energy production through solar, will become more prevalent.

Internet of Things devices will change the scale of solar

  • Better internet connectivity through LTE/5G and advances in the Internet of Things will allow small and flexible solar devices that can power daily electronics, create autonomous electronics, and even integrate into diagnostics.

Photocatalysis

  • Photocatalysis is a process where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen, an effective method for converting solar energy or sunlight into clean and renewable hydrogen fuel. Developments in solar tech will facilitate the catalytic reactions needed for water splitting, and “green hydrogen” will be of critical importance for the fight against climate change, for things like developing carbon-neutral fuels.

Solar charging stations for EVs

  • As electric vehicle adoption continues to increase, the charging infrastructure will have to grow with it. Solar-powered charging stations will take advantage of developments in better battery technology and will help refuel EVs without straining the grid. (Electrek wrote about how Electrify America opened 30 solar EV charging stations earlier this month.)

About Derya Baran

Derya Baran is an assistant professor, material science and engineering, at KAUST. Her research interests lie in the area of solution processable organic/hybrid soft materials for electronic devices. Such soft semiconductor materials possess a viable platform for printed, large area, stretchable, and wearable electronics that can be used as solar cells, smart windows, OFETs, thermoelectrics, sensors, and bio-electronics.

She aims to expand the applications of solution processable organic/hybrid semiconductors and to explore their limits in organic/hybrid thermoelectric devices and bio-electronics in the future.

Baran did her undergraduate work and earned a masters of science at Middle East Technical University in Turkey, then received her PhD in material science and engineering from Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nurnberg in Germany. She also did postdoctorate work at the Imperial College of London.

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