Innovative, entrepreneurial and scientific companies are taking up the challenge in exciting and creative ways around the world, but we can do our bit in the meantime by using energy responsibly and learning from organisations such as EST.
Here are five facts from the world of solar power which could change the way we soon live our lives.
Farms don’t need to be rectangular
Solar farms, while no doubt technologically interesting and futuristic, can look fairly bland. That might not bother those who benefit from them but the aesthetes among us may prefer farms of a little more beauty.
Next year, on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, an innovative and beautiful heart shaped-solar farm will start powering 750 homes, cutting down on current dependency on fossil fuels.
The 'Heart of New Caledonia', shown in this Guardian article, may be the start of a marriage between solar power and shape; IBM is building sunflower solar panels for 2017 which will also be able to desalinate water so that it can be used for bathing and drinking, while simultaneously warming the water.
They don’t need to be on the ground
Around 71% of the Earth’s surface is water and 97% of that is sea - totally unsuitable for solar farms. But still inland water such as lakes, canals and reservoirs provide a more stable base.
French company Ciel et Terre has developed a pilot floating solar platform in the south of the country, which could potentially power fish and dairy farms, wineries and wastewater treatment plants. The ‘Hydrelio’ system apparently generates energy more effectively than land-based farms, and purifies the water at the same time.
Work is progressing on projects in England and Japan, while other companies are devising similar projects in India and California.
Tofu is a solar energy provider
Magnesium chloride is commonly used as a coagulant which can be blended with soy milk to make tofu. But bizarrely it may have other chemical properties which could make the process of creating solar cells more cheaply.
Cadmium telluride solar cells need to be ‘washed’ with impurities to make them efficient. Currently magnesium chloride is used for the job, but researchers at the University of Liverpool have discovered that replacing cadmium chloride seems to be a cheaper and less environmentally-damaging process.
It is also 300 times cheaper - scientists say that the discovery has the potential to revolutionise the solar power industry.
Solar roads could be a reality
Apart from classic car enthusiasts and true petrolheads most drivers seem to be generally enthusiastic about electric cars, but the main problem – apart from the price of the vehicles themselves – is the worry of running out of power through a scarcity of recharging stations.
But imagine if you could simultaneously charge the car while you were driving on a road constructed of solar-panels tough enough to withstand 50-tonne trucks and heavy traffic – a road that also lights up in the dark. The perfect solution?
Julie and Scott Brusaw in Idaho, USA, invented the bold idea of Solar Roadways eight years ago and aimed to raise $1m through crowd funding to see if the idea was viable. So far a total of more than $2.2m suggests that even if nothing comes of it the public interest is strong.
There are many logistical difficulties (some researchers would say impossibilities) concerning shaded roads, snowy conditions and the expense of fitting, and the physical properties. Time will tell.
‘Big’ solar news in India
Air pollution, waste management (48% of the population do not have access to sanitation) and water scarcity are just three of the major environmental issues facing India in the 21st Century.
In September the country made a statement when the world’s largest single rooftop solar power project in the world was commissioned, to be built in the Punjab, and weighing in at a hefty 7.52MW.
The project will aid the millions of farmers working in the agricultural state and will be built by Larsen and Toubro, a company which is already working on projects with a total capacity of 400MW.