Disruptive Technologies Powering the Solar Industry

Monday, June 08, 2020

As legend has it, around 212 B.C., Greek scientist Archimedes used mirrors to concentrate sunlight to set fire to the wooden ships of the invading Roman Empire. The story of Archimedes’s “flaming death ray” only confirms that humans have long recognized the sun’s power and harnessed it for productive (as well as destructive) purposes.

Significant advancements in solar power technology have been made in the 21st Century. In a recent post, we addressed ways in which solar power is being used to perform functions other than electricity generation, such as producing heat, capturing moisture from the air to produce clean water, and desalinating non-potable water, and how such technologies enrich companies’ patent portfolios. In this post, we want to share additional technological improvements that are being developed and brought by companies in the solar power space.

Low Cost, High Power Solar Device. Canadian solar product developer ISP Solar recently introduced what it calls ‘Intensifying Solar Panels,’ indicating that solar power will be more affordable and more eco-friendly than what is currently on the market. ISP Solar describes its product as a “patent pending breakthrough technology that delivers an encapsulated solar module that uses 1/20th of the PV cells of traditional panels by incorporating conic reflective troughs that multiply sunrays by 20x, resulting in lower cost alternative to traditional solutions, while improving performance.” By using 1/20th of the PV cells of traditional solar panels, ISP’s Intensifying Solar Panels are intended to produce the same amount of power while reducing a solar power plant’s carbon footprint. You can review ISP’s technology in US Patent No. 9,234,681 and  US patent applications 2011/0088684, 2019/0013776,  and 2019/0157483, among the company’s growing IP assets.

New Designs Based on Biomimicry. Humans have long looked to nature for clues on how to solve difficult problems and innovate, which is a practice called “biomimicry.” According to the dictionary definition, biomimicry involves “the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.” Researchers from IBM and Swiss-based Airlight Energy teamed up and used biomimicry to create the “Sunflower,” which is billed as an ultra-efficient, multipurpose solar system that powers off-grid locations. Researchers incorporated ideas from the functions of the human body’s blood supply system, as well as the manner in which sunflowers bend toward the direction of the sun, as part of their design process. The surface of the sunflower’s curved dish is covered in reflective, mirrored panels which are coated in aluminum. The system allegedly converts 80% of the sun’s energy into electricity, but can also purify and desalinate water, produce heat, and cool a building.

Floating Solar Farms. In the coming years, expect to see an increasing amount of solar power being developed via solar arrays floating on water rather than on land. Floating photovoltaic panels—or “floatovoltaics”—installed on one-fourth of the United State’s man-made reservoirs could generate about 10% of U.S. energy needs, according to a new research study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Research shows that the natural cooling effect of the water below can boost the solar panels’ power production by up to 22%. By now, a variety of companies have secured utility and design patents related to floatovoltaics. For example, Google with U.S Patent No. 9,729,101 or P4P Holdings, LLC with U.S Patent Nos. 8,875,450, 9,027,288, or D625250.

Advances in engineering and materials are making solar capture and conversion technologies more powerful and efficient, and in most cases cheaper while offering opportunities to secure patent protection in the solar patent space. We will continue to keep you apprised of developments in the rapidly evolving solar industry.