Saturday, December 19, 2009

SOLAR ENERGY: Flexible Solar - Latest in Solar Advances

By Ben Mester

I recently came across an article talking about flexible solar panels and the cells that power them, and I was blown away by some of the new technology coming out on the market. In the current push towards green, renewable technology, solar energy is making huge strides toward greater personal application of its technology.

The new photovoltaic solar panels rolling out of the factories are supposed to be both ultra thin and ultra light, able to be rolled up like a beach towel and carried away. This is a huge benefit over the traditional silicon solar panels, those heavy, rigid panels you see on the rooftops of many homes. These new flexible sheets are completely different, made to be portable and used for personal application, like charging everyday electronics without having to plug into the grid. They're a huge plus for sustainable, green energy enthusiasts.

But there are added benefits. Amorphous, meaning shapeless, silicon thin-film solar cells can be manufactured at a cheaper rate than conventional crystalline cells primarily because they use less material than the traditional cells. Newer cells are only 1 micrometer thick. Older crystalline solar cells generally came in 150-to-200-micrometer-thick slices. Not only that, but solar cells are becoming more and more efficient everyday.

The electric charge and voltage generated by the newest systems are many times more powerful than the old. The most modern cells, called triple junction cells are being mad with three different materials - amorphous silicon, amorphous silicon germanium, and nanocrystalline silicon. This gives maximum energy absorption because each of these materials is tuned to capture the energy in different parts of the solar spectrum. That kind of technology is brand new.

More than that, it's also coming on the scene right at the time when solar panels are becoming lighter, more portable, and even affordable for personal use. Because of those three factors, I personally think that this technology will be the next huge thing in the green energy push. The only thing I can think of that could top it would be some kind of fold-up, portable wind energy device, which I can't imagine coming out anytime in the near future. But that would be quite the site to see.

With this newest advancement in flexible solar panels, I expect solar energy to hit a new peak. With the green movement now in full swing and people more and more wanting to minimize their effect on the environment, I have a feeling that the new designs and technologies are going to revolutionize our thinking. It isn't really that solar power is efficient. It's the fact that people are wanting to take the welfare of the environment into their own hands.

Knowing that you can buy a backpack for instance, that will generate enough electricity to charge your Ipod and your cell phone, is something that's never been heard of before. In my opinion, the future is going to be motivated by sustainability and self-sufficiency. These are just a handful of the most current advancements. Everyday, we're coming out with newer, smaller, more cost effective versions! Modern science and research are rallying around solar power, coming out with new and awesome technology everyday.

But that's not all. There's just something that's almost exciting about generating your own power. It's like growing food in your own garden. Even powering your own lighting can be exhilarating. I remember the first time I used a hand cranked flashlight. There was just something almost magical knowing that hand powered energy was making enough of a charge to power the battery. I mean, when could a person ever go to a little grassy park and break out a laptop while lying in a field.

It's true that with the latest advancements in lithium ion batteries, laptops can hold up to 8 hours of a charge, but most batteries have a limited shelf life and begin to lose efficiency very quickly. I'm not sure what the future is going to bring. But I'm very excited about the newest wave of flexible solar panels just hitting the market. I think we're going to start seeing a lot more of this kind of technology being applied for everyday use.

I hope you enjoyed this article about flexible solar panels. If you want to read more about the latest developments in solar technology, check out some more of my articles.

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