Solar energy is undoubtedly extremely important to the future of the planet. We will not be able to power our lives in the future if we do not use solar energy as part of the way to do it. Other renewable, environmentally-friendly sources of power will also have a large part to play, but they cannot cover the high and increasing demand for electricity unless solar is involved.
The important thing for the future is to make solar power affordable, appealing and easy to use.
Indoor and outdoor applications
When thinking about solar energy, most people assume that a lot of direct sunlight is required for them to be worthwhile. This is mostly true of traditional solar panels, such as those made from silicon, but scientists have come up with clever new technologies which means we can use solar technology in low level lighting, for example on cloudy days or even indoors! There some companies, such as G24 Innovations based in the UK, who are even developing indoor applications using excitonic solar cells that could take away our need for AA batteries or plugging things into the wall to save our energy bills! Examples of these products could be in remote controls, computer keyboards, smoke alarms or even in the tops of coffee tables! With excitonic solar cells able to be cheap, versatile, printable and coloured there is potential to design environmentally-friendly gadgets that go with our decorating tastes and fit in seamlessly with the lifestyle we are used to.
Transparent solar cells
One goal is to make solar cells that can absorb electromagnetic radiation in the infra-red or ultra-violet regions. If they absorb sunlight in these regions but allow visible light through, they will be transparent. They would be almost, if not completely, invisible so we would not know they were there. They could then potentially be integrated into glass in windows and doors or be used for other novel applications.
Solar cells in vehicles
Vehicles guzzle a lot of energy and solar panels will have to become a lot more efficient before they could power them entirely. However, we could perhaps integrate solar panels into the car structure so that they can power the electrics and smaller powered items in the vehicles, which would reduce some of the power consumption reliant on fossil fuels.
This is a problem with many renewable energy technologies with storing the energy so we can use it when we need it. But before too long we will hopefully have better and more novel batteries that are light-weight, non-toxic, thin and generally more versatile that match well with the new solar cell technologies coming through. They could maybe be combined to power many things that we use everyday such as household gadgets.
Find out more about the kinds of solar cells and panels that are already in use and those which are likely to be seen much more in the future in our Solar Technology pages!