Solar Panel Roads in Australia / Efficiency

Solar panel roads – today we’ll take a look at how research and trials for solar panel roads are going, and what the future looks like for solar highways. Will we ever see solar highways in Australia (or anywhere else, for that matter)? 

Solar Panel Roads

We’ve already written extensively about solar roads and the various trials they’re currently in the middle of:

However there are three main problems with solar roads at the moment – price, performance, and safety. It’s still exorbitantly expensive to come up (the price per kW of all the current solar roads is up to $~2000 per kilowatt) with these road solar cells which perform significantly worse than their roofed brethren. Since the panels don’t have a tilt and need to be housed underneath something strong and load-bearing, this cuts efficiency significantly. And if 5% of a panel is shaded, this can reduce power generation by up to 50%. It’s assumed that dirt, dust, and traffic will exacerbate this – so we need a way to make the initial panels cheaper and/or more effective if solar roads are ever going to be a real possibility. 

Solar Panel Roads in Australia

Solar Panel Roads in Australia
Solar Panel Roads in Australia? (source: solarroadways.com)

Would these solar panel roads work in Australia? News.com.au have a great article about solar road technology, where they  discuss how expensive the current trials are and what the future for this technology could be:

The article quotes Dr. Andrew Thomson, a solar researcher at Australian National University. 

“It’s a really attractive looking idea,” Dr Thomson said. But while “it’s technically feasible, it’s very expensive. I don’t really think there’s a market for it, the opportunity cost is very much against it”.

We’ll keep you updated with progress on how solar road resarch is going along – but perhaps it’s just not the best place to put solar panels as Dylan Ryan, lecturer in Mechanical & Energy Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University told news.com.au: “…solar roads on city streets are just not a great idea”

 

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Printable Solar Panels / Cells – A Primer.

Printable Solar Panels – at some point it may be possible to use a simple desktop inkjet printer to print your own solar cells. We’re a while off that yet, but with great advancements in the technology over the last couple of years, let’s take a look at what the future holds for printed solar cells!

Printable Solar Panels

Printable Solar Panels - University of Newcastle
Printed Solar Cells – University of Newcastle (source: abc.net.au via University of Newcastle)

We wrote last week about the University of Newcastle and their foray into printed solar cells – today we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into the situation and see where we can expect this technology to go in the next few years. 

The University of Newcastle are reporting that their latest tests in Newcastle brings them “about two years” away from launching their product onto the commercial solar market. Leading the charge has been University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor, who created the electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels.

The process is According to the ABC, semi-conducting ink is printed on a transparent plastic sheet for the first layer, and then layers are printed on top of the other, until the cells are about 200 microns thick. For reference, human hair is around 50 microns. After that, a “top contact layer” is done again, reel-to-reel, using a technique known as sputter coating, according to Professor Dastoor.

They estimate the cost of their modules at less than $10 per square metre which is extremely cheap – the main problems are the efficiency of the printed solar panels and ensuring there’s enough space for them as it’ll take quite a lot of room on a roof. They use a lot of plastic to manufacture as well so looking at ways to recycle the waste of printed solar cells is extremely important. For that reason, in six months Professor Dastoor and his team will pull the printed solar cells off the Melbourne roof they’re currently on and investigate ways to minimise environmental waste. 

 

 

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Printed Solar Cells | University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has been able to deliver printed solar cells at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre. They are now powering a Newcastle business and showing results in the wild. Amazing steps forward for solar technology, and in our own backyard! How long until we can print solar cells at home using inkjet printers?

Printed Solar Cells – Breakthrough Technology

University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor has created electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels – offering “unprecedented affordability” and could help solve the energy crises in New South Wales and Australia-wide.

“We are changing the climate, we know it’s because burning fossil fuels and we have to shift to renewables, even if leaders in Canberra can’t understand that,” he told AAP via the Bega District News.

“This technology has the potential to be enormously scalable … it’s fast, it’s low cost and doesn’t require anything special.”

The team are able to print hundreds of metres of solar cells at the Centre of Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle. If a commercial scale printer were obtained, this could easily be upgraded to kilometres of cells. 

“The low cost and speed at which this technology can be deployed is exciting as we need to find solutions, and quickly, to reduce demand on base-load power – a renewed concern as we approach another summer here in Australia,” Professor Dastoor said.

 
Printed Solar Cells via Paul Dastoor
Printed Solar Cells via Paul Dastoor of University of Newcastle (source: newcastle.edu.au)

Around 200 square metres of the printed solar panels has been installed at an industrial site owned by logistics company CHEP in Beresfield, near Newcastle.

This is a fantastic step forwards for solar panel technology People who are wanting to install solar into a rental property or those who don’t have access to a roof (apartment solar) will be licking their lips at the possibility. 

According to Wikipedia, these printed solar cells have a few main drawbacks:

  1. The efficiency of inket solar cells is “too low to be commercially viable” 
  2. Indium is a rare material and could be gone in 15 years.
  3. The ink needs to be weather resistant and can survive harsh conditions.

It looks like the efficiency of Dr Dastoor’s printed solar panels is around 2-3%, but at only A$10 per square metre when manufactured at scale, it looks like these modules are certainly commercially viable, even if they’re not the most efficient cells in the world. 

In six months they will remove the test panels from the CHEP roof and have a look at recycling the material. Professor Dastoor and his team will also run some statistics on how well the printed solar was able to perform. We’ll keep you updated! 

If you want to learn more about flexible solar panel tech, please click here

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Solar Tarp – foldable, portable solar power.

California based Lipomi Research Group are working on creating a solar tarp – which would have myriad uses for society. Let’s learn more about how these upgraded solar panels could help parts of the world where they don’t have access to regular electricity – and some of the technological challenges they’re facing trying to complete the project.

About the Solar Tarp technology

Prototype Solar Tarp Sample - University of California
Prototype Solar Tarp Sample – University of California (source: theconversation.com)

The Lipomi Research Group are focused on “identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not”.  They’ve been tinkering with perovskite solar cells, which are 1/1000 the thickness of a silicon layer in a solar panel. 

Darren Lipomi of the Lipomi Group, who is also a Professor of Nanoengineering at the University of California, said that their goal is to create flexible solar panels which are as efficient as conventional silicon but don’t have some of the drawbacks of it.

The goal is to develop flexible solar panels which are thin, lightweight, and bendable. Lipomi is calling their idea a ‘solar tarp’ – which refers to a solar panel which can be expanded to the ‘size of a room’, but balled up to the size of a grapefruit when not in use. The issues here are finding a molecular structure to make the solar panels stretchable and tough – this involves replacing the silicon semiconductors with materials such as perovskite. 

They’re also taking a look at polymer semiconductors / organic semiconductors (based on carbon, and used in place of perovskites or silicon in a solar cell). These aren’t as efficient, but are far more flexible and extremely durable.

According to The Conversation, the sunlight that hits the earth in a single hour contains more energy than the whole planet uses in an entire year – so there’s plenty more work to do on improving how we utilise the sun! We’ll keep an eye on the solar tarp project and let you know when it reaches the next stage.

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Portable solar panels camping – fridges, reviews

Portable solar panels camping – if you’re thinking about a portable solar panel purchase for your campsite – to power laptops, charge phones, or even run a small fridge – you’re on the right article! Let’s take a look at the three main styles of portable solar panel and which you should choose.

Portable Solar Panels Camping

You have three main choices with regards to portable solar panels – and your choice depends on your unique circumstances.

Portable Folding Panels – the best option if you only camp a few times a year or you’re on a budget. These panels are quite heavy and inflexible, but they’re very simple to move to find a spot in the sun. Unless you’re a pro, we generally recommend starting here. 

Solar Blankets – the mid-range choice. More expensive than portable folding panels but worth the extra investment if you’re a frequent traveller – especially if you’re concerned about space and weight. It’s extremely simple to hang a solar blanket over the hood of your car, over your tent, on a nice sunny rock…

If you are going to have a look at the solar blanket option make sure you pay a little extra for a quality brand as these solar blankets aren’t the cheapest to begin with. If you’re going to invest in them it’s worth your while to get something that will last!

We can recommend the 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS from Redarc. 

Solar panels camping - 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS Redarc
Solar panels camping – 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS (source: REDARC.com.au)

Fixed Panels – for the grey nomad or the frequent traveller, fixed panels have very low setup and are very easy to get working. You do need to park your trailer (or however/wherever you have fixed them) in the right spot to get as much sun as possible – which can be a little annoying. But in terms of performance vs. ease of use, these are the Cadillac of portable solar.

Alternatives for Portable Solar Panels

Although Portable folding panels, solar blankets and fixed panels comprise the bulk of what we’ll recommend for solar camping, there are a couple of caveats we should mention befor eyou go and buy anything.

If you’re not sure how much power you’ll require we can recommend the REDARC Solar calculator selection tool which is a fantastic tool for those planning a getaway!

If you want something simple just to charge a phone or a power bank we recommend giving Solar Paper by YOLK a look.

Any questions or feedback on any of these products? Do you have an issue with your solar powered camp? Please let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to help!

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Solar roads in Tokyo for 2020 Olympics

The Tokyo metropolitan government have announced that they’ll build solar roads in Tokyo which will help Japan promote itself as an eco-friendly nation ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Let’s take a closer look at solar road technology and see how it’s working in other countries as well.

Solar roads in Tokyo

The country has already made some inroads with regards to trialling the solar road technology – in May a car park at a 7-11 in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. It consists of solar panels installed on the road, with a covering of a special resin which enhances durability and allows cars/bikes to drive over the panels without damaging them. 

A manager at the 7-11 store was quoted in the Independent as saying: “The solar road system can generate 16,145 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, covering about nine per cent of the entire electricity that the store consumes.”

Tokyo’s government has set a goal for 2030 – that renewable energy should represent at least 30% of power consumption in the city (up from 12% in 2016).  We’re not sure where the solar roads in Tokyo will go, but we’ll let you know as soon as we have any information.

Business Times reports that it cost around 5 million euro per KM of solar road for the roads already installed in France – so it’s still very expensive and we have a ways to go before solar roads are everywhere.

We reported last year on solar roads in China, which are strong enough for medium-sized trucks to drive over. No news yet on how that is going but we’ve got trials in the Netherlands on cycling roads and also on French motorways so there should be more information on solar road performance soon.

More Solar Roads

Solar roads in Tokyo
Solar roads in Tokyo (artist’s impression) (source: news.com.au)

If you’re interested in reading more about solar highways, here are some other articles which may be of interest – the tech is still very much so in its nascent stages so keep your eyes posted and we’ll keep you updated on everything solar road related!

SONOB Installation on Dutch Highways (IIPV) – solar panel sound barriers (SONOB) as part of a project replacing currently installed sound barriers. 

The ACT has a ‘solar highway’ which isn’t exactly a solar road per se, but a step in the right direction.

recent report by US firm IDTechEX advises that they think “electrically smart roads” can be a $23 billion industry in 10 years, according to an article from news.com.au. 

 

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Solar Camping Roundup – Products for Camping/Hiking

If you’re an avid camper or hiker, I’m sure you’ve already seen some of your fellow outdoor lovers using portable solar to charge their electronics while on the trail or at the campsite. Gone are the days when using a heavy (and expensive!) generator, wasting your car battery, or, even worse, using traditional non-rechargeable batteries were the only ways to charge electronics or run lights at the campsite. Solar camping is the way of the future! 

The rapid proliferation of advancements in solar panel technology has led to some exciting new ideas in the world of portable solar panels. So if you enjoy hiking, camping, (or you do and your family can’t live without their phones!) have a look at some of the options which are available to people who want to use recharge with renewable energy when they’re out in the wild. 

Buy Camping Solar Products in Australia

There a number of retailers in Australia offering a huge range of great products, from portable solar panels, foldable solar panels, solar torches, power banks to store the energy in, and much more. Quality can vary quite considerably so make sure you do your due diligence before purchasing anything too expensive. 

Kathmandu have a small range of products for campers and hiker such as the Goal Zero range of panels and some Kathmandu branded Power Banks and Hand Torches. 

Solar Camping – Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Panel and GoalZero Solar Battery (source: kathmandu.com.au)
Solar Camping – Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus Panel and GoalZero Solar Battery (source: kathmandu.com.au)

 

Tentworld offers a range of foldable and rollable solar panels from brands such as Goal Zero, PowerFilm, Engel, and OZtrail. 

Some other amazing products we’re interested in (let us know if you’d like us to do a full review on any of these so I have an excuse to buy them!)

  • Eton Scorpion – A radio with 3.5mm input, a solar panel, and a hand crank which powers the device and even external USB devices. Don’t expect massive power, but very hand to have in a pinch. 
  • Earl Tablet – A camping gadget with a GPS chipset, connects to a VHF and UHF transceiver, can connect to analog and digital frequencies, and can provide up to 20 hours of battery life after five hours of sunlight charging. 
  • Lumos Solar Backpack – A solar camping backpack with a 3 watt solar panel and a 2200 mAh battery built in. Very reasonably priced, too! 
  • Companion Deluxe Portable Solar Shower – A 20L bag you fill up and leave out in the sun during the day. Built in water temperature gauge. 
  • Energizer Solar 4LED Rechargeable Spotlight – A simple rechargeable solar flashlight. Runs for 3.5 hours after 5 hours of charge and is totally waterproof.
  • Rock Out 2 Solar Rechargeable Speaker – A waterproof solar powered Bluetooth speaker which provides 10 hours of surprisingly quality sound on an 8 hour charge. 
  • Solar Car Battery Charger – An inexpensive 1.5 watt panel which can help ensure your battery stays charged when you’re away from your vehicle. Clip it onto your battery or plug it into the cigarette lighter. 
  • Solarmonkey Charger – A lightweight, waterproof and shock resistant portable solar panel. Will charge in around 8 hours and has an internal lithium-ion battery which stores a respectable 3500mAh.

Solar Powered Tents

Cinch Pop Up Tents offer an addon called the Cinch! Solar Power Pack which connects to the top of their extensive range of tents. The power pack includes a flexible silicon panel and a power bank so you can use the energy generated at night. They even have LED tent pegs so you won’t lose your tent or knock into one in the dark! 

Have a look at their promotional video for the Cinch solar tents below:

Solar Camping Panel Product Reviews

Is there a product you’re interested in buying and would like a review on? Leave your request in the comments and we’ll take a look for you! 

Alternatively, have you tried one of the products mentioned here and have an opinion? What did you like and what don’t you like about it? Please let us know, we’d love to hear about how you went. 

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Renovagen commercial-scale portable solar power

UK-based Renovagen has been doing some exciting work in the field of portable solar, with commercial-scale portable solar power systems utilising their ‘rapid roll’ technology recently deployed at Flat Holm, in the UK. They’re also working on rolling out (sorry) this technology on a much larger scale – their “Rapid Roll I” will fit in ISO shipping containers and could be a complete game changer in terms of commercial-scale portable solar power. 

Renovagen’s ‘Solar Carpet’ and Flat Holm

Flat Holm is a small island in the Bristol Channel, five miles off the south Wales coast. Traditionally, providing electricity for it has been a ‘challenge’, according to Flat Holm team leader Natalie Taylor. It has no mains supply and the island has been using old solar panels and diesel generators. 

Gareth Harcombe, energy and sustainability manager at Cardiff Council said: “We were looking at solar and hydro, but that takes up a lot of land and land in cities is expensive. But there is a lot of land that we have that’s available whilst it waits for other opportunities. So this was a question about how we could generate electricity in a way that was portable, so once the site is needed for something else it can be moved on.”

That’s where Renovagen came in – their “rapid roll” roll-up solar panels are providing an average of 11KW of power – enough for four residents and visits from tourists. The system includes batteries capable of storing 24KW/h of power, which is about a day’s worth of the island’s energy requirements. This is a fantastic and cost-effective interim solution until they decide what the optimal choice for Flat Holm’s electricity generation will be. 

Renovagen Solar Carpet
Renovagen Rapid Roll “Solar Carpet” deployed at Flat Holm, UK (source: renovagen.com)

About Renovagen

John Hingley, Renovagen Managing Director, started work on this scaled-up mobile solar technology in 2012. It’s now the leading UK startup in commercial-scale portable solar power systems. They fully funded a £1,000,000 equity investment pitch via the UK crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube, in April last year – to help the speed up the development and go-to-market costs of their “Roll-Away” rapid roll portable solar systems. The company had hoped to raise £600,000 in equity funding so this was a great result. 

Currently based in Milton Keynes, their technology has been growing in leaps and bounds – take a look at the video below to learn more about how it works:

Rapid Roll Overview Video Presentation Sept 2016 from John Hingley on Vimeo.

Renovagen Rapid Roll “I”

The Renovagen Rapid Roll “I” is one of the most exciting of their products – currently under development, this portable solar power solution will come in an ISO (International Standards Organization or intermodal, i.e. a standardised size) shipping container and can provide enough power (depending on how technology goes, this could be up to 600kWp, according to Renovagen) for a small city. 

The idea of mobile and portable industrial size scale solar power one is extremely exciting and it has a lot of potential uses. The Rapid Roll “I” will fit in 20ft ISO or 40ft ISO containers and will be able to deploy 5x200m and 10x200m of solar panels respectively.

It comes complete with inverters and a large battery bank (specifics not available yet). 

Commercial-Scale Portable Solar Power

There are many uses for commercial-scale portable solar – off grid power in remote locations is extremely expensive and complicated to set up. Military, disaster relief, mining, construction, events, film production, and telecommunications are all situations where this ‘container solar’ idea could provide a huge help at a cost-effective price. 

If they’re able to scale this technology quickly, imagine how useful it’d be in situations like Puerto Rico where Hurricane Maria has left their ravaged state-owned utility PREPA trying frantically to restore power to the island’s 3.4 million residents. Elon Musk and Tesla has stepped in – they’ve been shipping their Powerpack and Powerwall batteries over there and there’s talk of installing a Tesla microgrid in Puerto Rico, but it’ll still be months before grid power is restored to anywhere but places that need it the most urgently (hospitals, authorities, etc.)

This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in portable solar of the past 10 years – so we’ll see what happens in the wake of Flat Holm and keep you updated. Very exciting stuff for solar!

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Flisom’s Flexible, Thin & Customisable Solar Panels

PV Solar panel tech company Flisom AG has unveiled a range of new solar panels in Switzerland – they are 98% thinner and lighter than currently available conventional solar panels. The jet black modules are fully rollable and customisable and will be a fantastic choice for a range of applications where the old panels wouldn’t have been suitable. Although more expensive than mass produced panels, the solar panel technology and manufacturing process is improving rapidly and it’s really exciting to see these live in the market! 

About the Flisom Solar Panels

Flisom Thin Flexible Solar Panels
Flisom Thin Flexible Solar Panels

Flisom is located in Dübendorf, Switzerland, and was founded in 2005. The privately held company has been developing and manufacturing PV thin film solar cells for over 10 years now and are leaders in their field. Since 2013 they’ve been developing proprietary manufacturing equipment and components using a ‘roll to roll’ manufacturing process which replicates the CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide solar cell) solar tech on an industrial scale. This results in thin, flexible, highly efficient (up to 50x power to weight ratio compared with silicon PV) panels, even when compared with traditional crystalline silicon solar cells. 

Flisom, along with their research partner Empa, achieved a world-record efficiency of 20.4% in a flexible CIGS solar cell – they are pioneers in commercialising this technology which was previously far too expensive to be viable for business. 

According to Flisom the new panels can be as light as 160 grams per square metre, in comparison with standard solar panels which can be up to 15kg per square metre. They’re also ultra-thin (as in under 2mm per cell). 

Flisom CEO Rahul Budhwar said: “We’re also offering this technology as a platform, which means it can be customised for the needs of different applications and products so you can embed them or custom create this for exactly the way that application needs solar – rather than taking standard blocks of large panels.

We’ll keep an eye out to see some case studies of Flimsom solar panels out in the wild and be sure to kepe you updated on how they go! 

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