While the more recent achievement of economies of scale has proven essential in bringing solar costs down, the mainstay of dropping prices of produced solar energy is innovation. New breakthroughs continue to drive efficiency levels up, as well as opening up new opportunities for scalable deployments of all sizes.
While headline project announcements of impressive new solar facilities are key for sustaining the industry’s momentum, this month we’re seeing a number of important smaller initiatives and innovations that demonstrate how solar’s presence can be spread beyond the big farms.
Solar sidewalks: Even though cities are growing, rooftop space isn’t always suitable for utility-scale solar deployments. A small but important development occurring in cities across the world is the use of solar sidewalks. Their key advantages are that they don’t take up valuable space and they’re much easier to maintain than rooftop-mounted panels. Barcelona City Council has just installed Spain’s first photovoltaic (PV) pavement, which is predicted to generate 7,560kWh of energy a year, enough for three households. A humble beginning, but this pilot project may pave the way for bigger things.
Solar umbrellas: If you want to stay cool at the beach and generate power, you wish is granted this month. Italian innovation company Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) has teamed up with ice-cream-maker Sammontana to create an umbrella with solar panels covering its upper side. The captured solar energy feeds coolers on the underside of the umbrella, giving beachgoers shade and cooler air at the same time, all carbon-free. Its designers see it as a modular system; multiple umbrellas can be deployed together to optimise the coverage across a stretch of beachfront.
Solar algae farm: Italy’s Enel Green Power and Enea have teamed up to launch a pilot plant that will combine microalgae farming with solar energy. Their trial of this pioneering “algovoltaic” approach could demonstrate the case for shared land use between the two green technologies.