Building-integrated-photovoltaics

Solar Technology: 11 Innovations Worth Checking Out

If you love solar, you love technology and innovation. These solar innovations are changing the energy game, the nature of solar installation, green architecture, and clean transportation. Read MOXIE’s top 10 list of solar technology, innovation, and renewable energy advances coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Solar Technology in Green Architecture

1. The Heliotrope

First, let’s look at an experimental German solar building. The Heliotrope, a rotating structure that follows the sun, was designed by energy visionary Rolf Disch. Today, there are three Heliotropes. Disch built the first in 1994 and moved into it.

You’ve heard of net-zero? Disch developed the concept of PlusEnergy for buildings that produce more energy than they use. Heliotropes produce four to six times more energy than they use! The structures also implement gray-water recycling and built-in composting features.

The Heliotrope design was the winner of the 2002 European Solar Prize, among many other honors.

In 2004, Disch developed the Sun Ship (Sonnenschiff) a community solar project. Read more about community solar below.

2. Solar Roofing / BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaics)

Over 5 million American homes will get a new roof this year. About 200,000 will install solar, mostly on the roof, but some in ground-mounted arrays. Do you see where we’re going with this? What if your new roof integrated solar tiles into the structure?

MOXIE installs Ergosun “Integrated Solar Roof Tiles.” They have a 10-year manufacturing warranty. Ergosun also guarantees 80% of peak power performance after 25 years.

Ergosun’s solar roof system produces 15 watts per tile. Each tile is 11.73 x 13.19” and they’re available in two colors, slate gray and terracotta.

When is a good time to put a solar roof on your house? Spring is a great time to install solar. It’s generally a slower season for roofers. Many people rush to put on a new roof in the fall before cold weather arrives. Because of increased demand, fall is also when roofers raise their rates.

This product is part of a growing market called building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).

Ergosun Solar Roof Tile
Ergosun Solar Roof Tile has a sleek finish.

In BIPV, the solar installation is part of the roof instead of mounted on racks above the roof. BIPV addresses three things in rooftop solar: durability, reliability, and aesthetics. In rooftop solar, the installer usually drills into the existing roof to attach the rack that supports the array.

By combining roofing with solar, your home produces electricity, not a floating solar panel that sits above the roof. A solar roof is integrated into the building itself.

As more companies install solar roofing, the price will drop. Eventually, as more consumers adopt the technology, a “solar roof” becomes synonymous or replaces the term “roofing.”

Solar Innovation in Shared Solar

3. Community Solar

By nature, solar energy is distributed and decentralized energy. Solar is democratizing energy production by removing the power company from production. But not all solar customers are alike.

Apartment dwellers (about 16% of the US) and renters can’t easily install solar. How will we transition to clean energy without this significant population segment? Landlords don’t have much incentive to switch to clean energy.

Most solar installed is onsite, rooftop or ground-mount, owned by the homeowner or business. If you can’t afford to finance solar installation, try a shared solar model.

Community solar shares the cost and reward. This is different from a typical lease or a solar power purchase agreement (PPA). In a PPA, a developer owns the solar equipment and all the power it produces.

Related to microgrids, community solar is another advance in distributed clean energy systems. Community solar can take different forms, mostly based on financial structure. These include:

  • Community group purchasing
  • Offsite shared solar
  • Onsite shared solar (apartment buildings)
  • Community-supported financial models

How to install community solar in your town

Bringing solar into the community can take three different forms.

The innovative solar models can use revolving funds to “pay it forward.” Revolving funds are a lease to a group where the energy savings are passed to the organization.

Tax equity loans allow investors to collect the solar investment tax credit (ITC).

Loan loss reserve (LLR) funding reduces third-party investor risk to make solar affordable through a portfolio approach. In this setup, risk is distributed among many small loans backed by state or local government. In Baltimore, LLRs provide solar energy for 1,000 low-income households.

Learn how to design an LLR finance program at the US Department of Energy.

By reducing the threshold for purchasing solar, community solar offers opportunities to widen the reach of clean energy. By erasing solar “deserts,” reducing pollution, and improving energy security, community solar strengthens the economy too.

4. Solar Microgrids

The grid is the system of electricity we use everyday. Plug in a phone and you’re connected.

By contrast, microgrids come in all shapes and sizes, including as solar grids. At the most basic, a building like a hospital with a generator is a microgrid. Any grid could include battery storage, diesel generators, or any mix of stored or self-produced power. But the difference between a microgrid and a rooftop solar array (or solar roof, see above), is that when the main grid goes down, a microgrid can keep the lights on.

There are even nano-grids (a free-standing building with its own power source, like solar panels or a generator) and pico-grids, like a person with a solar backpack charging a mobile device.

A microgrid is sometimes referred to as an “island” in the grid. It’s usually connected to a larger grid, to draw or distribute power. But when a storm hits or during a power outage, it can disconnect from the larger, main grid and run by itself. As a result, microgrids improve the larger grids’ reliability by stabilizing loads and balancing fluctuations in frequency and voltage.

In Colorado, a microgrid in the Fort Collins Zero Energy District includes New Belgium Brewery, city and county facilities, and Colorado State University. Each player in the microgrid gives and takes from the connection.

Some are calling microgrids the “Uber” of on-demand, distributed energy. Whatever you call it, the microgrid movement is growing. It’s an alternative to massive power plants and the top-down structure of utilities.

EVs and Transportation Innovation

Let’s shift gears and look at some exciting electric vehicle technology.

5. Electric highways

To foster electric vehicle adoption, fueling stations (chargers) must be deployed. Most EVs run a few hundred miles on a full “tank” (battery).

EVgo, a charging network, runs public charging stations across the US. In early 2021, they pulled together six giant utilities to form an EV charging coalition. The “highway” connects Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas. The coalition is comprised of AEP, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company, and the TVA.

Each company will provide charging stations within the connected network and enable long-distance EV travel.

Solar EV highway innovation

Solar EVs and Battery-Powered Construction Equipment

Last month, we talked about EV incentives for purchasing new electric cars and trucks.

Here are five amazing electric vehicles:

6. Aptera Solar Car

We discussed this “never charge” auto in a previous blog on the history and future of electric transport. Aptera’s car has 180 solar cells embedded in the body to refuel while driving or parked. It also plugs into standard 100, 220 volt, Level 2 and DC Fast Charging stations.

Aptera has $100 million in pre-orders.

7. Humble One

California-based Humble also makes a solar-panel clad car. The first solar SUV is called One.

The Humble One has 80-square feet of solar roof and weighs 1,500 pounds less than Tesla’s Cybertruck.

But the One costs over $100,000 (before EV incentives).

To reserve One, place a $300 deposit. The company has a few hundred orders and expects the solar-powered SUV to be delivered in 2025.

8. Komatsu eDumper

Manufactured by Kuhn Schweiz AG, this beast can haul 6500 kg and holds the title as largest EV in the world.

This massive 11,000 kilogram (24,250 lbs) mining dump truck has a battery capacity of 700kw. The battery alone weighs in at 4,500 kg (almost 1,000 lbs) and has the equivalent power of about seven Tesla cars.

Because the eDumper uses regenerative braking, its lithium-ion battery is recharged on downhill trips.

Annually, a typical dumper can burn up over 13,000 gallons of diesel and emit almost 300,000 pounds of CO2.

9. Caterpillar Excavator by Pon Equipment

Norwegian Caterpillar dealer Pon Equipment converted an excavator that’s the first of its kind.

The 26-tonne CAT 323F Z-line (for zero emissions) is a battery-powered behemoth that can dig for 5-7 hours on a single charge.

The excavator transformation took eight months and uses a 300kwh battery pack (about three Tesla car batteries).

Interestingly, Caterpillar invested in Fisker’s solid-state battery technology in 2018.

In 2016, the bulldozer and generator company entered the battery storage and microgrid market. Caterpillar is targeting remote operations like mining, rural and telecommunications for islanded microgrid applications. Why go electric? Beyond the green p.r., replacing diesel in confined mining operations reduces necessary ventilation costs. Providing safe, clean air is a costly OSHA regulation to follow in the mining industry.

Click this link to go down the “rabbit hole” of electric applications in mining technology.

Caterpillar also runs a spinoff R&D battery lab, Firefly, based in Peoria, IL.

10. PlanetSolar

Electric-hybrid ferries are making waves in Sweden. But the first boat to sail around the world on sunpower is PlanetSolar. The vessel was built in Germany for the Swiss foundation PlanetSolar and designed by New Zealand yacht company LOMOcean.

Over 30 meters long, the boat launched in 2010 and circled the globe in 160 days.

Watch a 51-minute documentary about the historic voyage using this breakthrough nautical solar technology.

 

Yes, this listicle goes up to 11.

Solar Battery Storage Technology (New and Old)

11. Suncrate

This western Iowa company might have the hottest solar battery storage idea anywhere in the world.

Suncrate is a portable solar generator was deployed in disaster response in Haiti. The product received a $172,000 grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

The mobile power unit has racking for 36 solar panels that fit on a 20-foot shipping crate. In addition, Suncrate has thin-film, flexible photovoltaic sheets glued to the roof.

And yes, additional Suncrates can be daisy-chained to create a mobile microgrid (Do you detect a theme today?).

Classic BONUS Tech:

Solar calculators

Let’s wrap it with a classic solar technology. For many, this was the first solar device they ever held.

Classic solar technology
The Teal Photon solar calculator

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