Clear Solar Concentrator Promises Increased Applications for Solar Panels

Clear Solar Panel

The UK recently passed further legislation intending to ensure that 15% of our energy capacity is provided from renewable sources. Many utility providers as well as corporate developers are seeking new technologies to meet this new demand. This effort has not been without reasonable opposition. One of the main concerns businesses have with converting to renewable energy is the effect such an implementation will have on their productivity and cash flows. Where solar panels have become popular in smaller businesses and the residential sectors, larger corporations have found that panels mounted on the roof do not alone, produce enough power for the building and the energy hungry machines that dwell inside it.

With the development of transparent solar concentrators, windows and other clear surfaces can be transformed into invisible collectors where solar energy can be harvested without the obvious visual burdens of current technologies.

What are clear solar concentrators?

Developed by the University of Michigan, the clear solar panel is a transparent covering which can fit on any window or clear surface to obtain solar energy. The department under the leadership of Lunt has made this possible. Unlike other current coverings, the clear solar panels do not give off any colour tints making it more desirable to use in office or work environments. Currently, the concentrators are working efficiently at one percent. Lunt has stated that the goal is to achieve a five percent efficiency shortly. However, to compete with the top LSCs the clear solar concentrators will need to have an efficiency of seven present or more.

Zhao and Lunt at University of Michigan
Zhao and Lunt at University of Michigan

The effectiveness and functionality of CSPs, as they are commonly called, is based upon the absorption of large amounts of solar energy through a series of organic molecules. Due to the design, past solar conductors would give off a rainbow effect as light passed through the covering (which of course is undesirable when they are applied to a common window); in the clear solar concentrators this is not the case. The organic molecules in the technology developed by the University of Michigan, direct the light to the edge of the panels where cell strips convert the light into useable power.

This technology is nothing new. Solar panelling and CSPs really began to emerge in commercial buildings around 2007 though they have been used by some companies as far back as the early 90s. CSPs are relatively new comparatively to the solar panel and other renewable energy products used. The benefit of this technology is that large buildings can use solar energy without having to sacrifice the design and aesthetics of the building or affecting the lighting ambience for the employees.

A solar panel design that works

It has been statistically proven that those work outside or in direct sunlight are healthier and happier employees. This is why the clear solar concentrator works in design as well as functionality. Because of the transparent design, and the designer Lunt has emphasised transparent, companies can designate large sections of their buildings to be adapted with this technology, without the fear of having strange, distracting or filtered tints impacting on the interior work area.

The fact that the clear solar concentrator can be used on any clear surface opens the door for building designers and architects to maximize the area in which solar energy can be gained. Many buildings have surfaces or planning restrictions in which traditional solar energy solutions cannot be accommodated. By providing a technology that is both very diverse in its applications, rewarding in its use and solves a real world problem, this technology promises to herald significant investment interest going forward.

Incorporating clear solar concentrators within the UK

It is common knowledge that solar panels have gained a favourable increase within the UK. Buildings both of a commercial and residential nature have started to convert to a more energy efficient methodology some now using solar concentrators and related devices to increase yield.

In large cities such as London where there is an abundance of large and wealthy corporations, the clear solar concentrator would be a welcome development, especially in areas that prevent the installation of standard solar panels on rooftops.

As it is quite clear that Lunt and the department at the University of Michigan will continue to develop this technology further, it will be interesting to see the speed in which these concentrators evolve and when they will be available for large scale production at efficiency levels that are acceptable for a sufficient ROI.

Is Whitehall really promoting renewable energy?

The UK has developed greatly in the past few years in regards to renewable energy initiatives. Programs and credits have been put into place so that residents as well as commercial consumers steer towards a more pragmatic approach to renewable energy. That said however, Nitrogen Oxide levels are rising year on year, currently atmospheric NO2 is at a dangerous level in the UK. So high are the levels here that the EU (European Commission) has sent notice to the government of intended legal actions in order to force a suitable solution to lower the Nitrogen Oxide levels here in the UK. This is not the first time that the UK has seen legal actions taken to ensure that the country takes measures towards lowering air toxins. Yet, even with legal actions the government has failed to meet the goals specified by the courts.  One has to wonder is the government doing enough to incentivise a larger uptake in renewable energy technologies.

ROCs are not enough

A very basic method which has been brought into play is ROCs (Renewable Obligation Credits). It is true that these credit force utility providers to use a certain amount of renewably sourced energy in their output. The UK has stated that it wants to receive fifteen percent of all energy from renewable energy sources. This low percentage leaves 85% of the energy outside of the solution. Consider if fifteen percent of the population used 100% renewable energy and the other 85% did not do so. The effect would be that 54,400,000 people would still be using energy from non-renewable sources.

The failure in ROCs is that the credit is in such a demand that the supply is not met. This discourages providers from seeking ROCs as the likelihood of obtaining such credits is growing less and less. Combine this scarcity with the stipulations surrounding obtaining an ROC and one can see that clearly this methodology towards renewable energy is not enough to cause a dramatic change. This failure has been addressed and in part a solution has been put into effect.

Due to the lack of effectiveness of the ROCs, the UK has passed legislation to introduce a two way, feed-in-tariff. This will be done with a Contract for Difference (or CfD) which will be aimed at low-carbon generation technologies. It has been estimated that the CfD will replace the ROCs currently in place by the year 2017. Overall the CfD plan is to be used for 15 years to help in maintaining renewable energy, as well as lowering nitrogen and carbon levels. These CfDs are a positive step forward in motivating companies to use technologies from renewable energies.

Solar Panel implementation

In 2008 solar panels really gained momentum within the UK.  The UK has offered two basic grants for obtaining solar panels. The first is for personal residence, the second covers commercial and charitable organization structures. Financially, a grant of up to 50% of the installation cost can be obtained.

This initiative has shown great promise for the convergence of the UK into a more energy conscious nation. Where in the past the UK has been dominantly dependent upon thermal and nuclear energy, the switch to solar panels has led to dramatic decreases in such uses.

Bring it to the general population

Where it is true that there are incentives for commercial companies to implement renewable energy, the programs available to the general population is disappointingly lacking. It would appear that the government has only addressed one side of the coin so to speak. Businesses have been addressed and encouraged to use renewable energy. Yet, the private sectors have been given little motivation apart from the solar panel grants and FiT.

One simple way in which the UK could promote renewable energy would be to offer a substantial tax credit to individuals which take up more migrogeneration technologies. Credits can also be given to tenants who chose to abide in rentals which use renewable energies. Doing such would encourage both the individual and the provider to have such energy in properties.

If the UK intends to meet its renewable energy goals then there will need to be more drastic measures taken to ensure that everyone is participating. Goals of 15% are not enough to make a substantial difference. Further, more attractive Initiatives and credits, oriented towards businesses which use renewable energy need to be more readily available. As the demand increases, so should the supply of easy-to-access funding.

Grey days ahead

At this time, it would appear that the UK government is not doing enough to promote renewable energy. True, there are a few positive programs which are active, but there is an unrelenting and negative chatter consistently surrounding their demise coming from Whitehall. One is lead to believe that these schemes are more to keep legal issues at bay than be in the vested interest of the general public and our environment.