5 Game-Changing Innovations in Renewable Power

1. Printable solar panels

Solar panels use cells made of silicon,but the new innovation is using solar ink which can be printed on to rolls of A3 size plastic. The ink can be applied through various methods, including spray coating and screen printing. Lightweight, low-cost and flexible the solar ink can be applied on to a range of materials and devices, from windows to consumer packaging, smartphones to computers.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency has been developing the product for the past eight years and has put the printable cells on their own roof more than two years ago. Although the technology “is more or less ready to go” for low-power applications, the product is some way from meeting the performance standard of the commonly used silicon-based devices and is still many times less efficient.

2. Floating wind turbines

Scottish seas will soon play host to the world’s largest floating wind farm, after the government approved a project brought by oil and gas giant Statoil.

The five 6MW floating wind turbines, interconnected with cables and attached to the ocean floor through an anchoring system, will be the first in UK waters and is expected to generate enough energy to power 20,000 homes.

The development of floating offshore wind could be a game-changer for the industry. There are already two other projects at earlier stages of development in Scotland with others underway in Norway, Portugal, the US and Japan.But more research is needed to monitor how they interact with the environment and it is likely to be at least five years before they are commercially viable.

3. Solar balloons for refugee camps

During humanitarian disasters, generating energy is an immediate priority for relief agencies. In refugee camps, which are often in remote locations far from access to the national grid, diesel generators are most commonly used, although they can be difficult to locate and transport in a conflict zone and expensive to operate.

Now a team of French designers think they have found an environmentally friendly solution: solar-powered balloons. Zephyr balloons have a diameter of 4m and could provide enough energy to supply 50 people , power a makeshift hospital or a telecommunications unit. Electricity is sent back to the ground where it can be stored in a battery or used immediately.

The product, comparable to the Google owned Makani wind kites, attracted support from energy firm EDF after winning the French competition of the Dyson award. The team are now looking to fundraise to build their first prototype which they expect will be ready by 2017, with the product on the market one year later. They say it could also be suitable for outdoor events, isolated communities and highly dense cities that lack floor space.

4. Solar-powered water pumps

Changing climate and weather patterns are exacerbating drought and water shortages. As per Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about half a billion people could be affected within five years.

Yet many of the driest parts of the continent are sitting on top of some of the world’s largest supplies of underground freshwater. In some parts of the continent, solar-powered water pumps are now helping communities to access it.

The 5m pumps, powered by solar panels, can draw up 30,000 litres of water every day from a hole 100m underground. It uses a freely available resource – the sun – to access one of scarcity – water – without the need for accessing the national grid. Although the price of solar has dropped by 70% since 2009 but still there is a lack of trained professionals who can produce and install the technology.

5. Solar panels inspired by Japanese paper cutting

Manufacturing solar panels to track the movement of the sun capturing significantly more sunlight is not a new innovation. But the technology that is currently used can be cumbersome, heavy, expensive and can only be used on certain types of installations.

Now researchers are developing a solution, inspired by kirigami, the Japanese art of paper cutting. After working with paper artist Matt Shlian, Max Shtein and his team at the University of Michigan created a solar panel design in which individual elements tilt and move around each other when pulled. They believe it would be easier to install than conventional panels and can be made from cheaper, more lightweight materials. Their research, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that it could make energy generation 35% more efficient than traditional stationary panels.