We are focused on improving communities and protecting the environment through solar PV and solar thermal projects.
These solar technologies provide the most sustainable energy solution for Everybody Solar and our partner charities; however, there are other existing and emerging clean energy technologies that will play a role in the much-needed move to a clean energy economy. Here are a few that we predict to be major players.
Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
Another promising solar technology is building integrated photovoltaics. There are several different forms of BIPVs, the most common of which is thin film solar. The advantage of this technology over traditional PV panels is its easy integration into the existing architectural design of buildings, such as the transparent solar cells to be used in the new windows of Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).
BIPVs are currently less efficient and more expensive than traditional PV technology. However, the initial cost can be offset with reduced material and labor costs when integrated directly into the design of new buildings. BIPV also works well for skyscrapers like Willis Tower where the majority of the buildings’ potential solar surface is on the sides of the building.
Wind Power Generation
Like solar, the U.S. has been generating power from wind for decades, and this renewable energy source has also become more affordable in recent years.
Currently, wind energy is financially feasible on a scale of megawatts or more. However, several companies are developing small-scale rooftop wind turbines, which promise to be another great tool to help make communities and small companies energy-independent.
The word geothermal originates from the Greek words for earth (geo) and heat (therme). Geothermal energy is energy derived from the natural heat of the earth. Hot water and steam from inside the earth can be used to produce electricity and heat buildings. The largest group of geothermal power plants in the world is located at The Geysers, a geothermal field in California. Together the plants have a generating capacity of more than 1,500 megawatts. Nearly 5% of California’s electricity comes from geothermal sources. (Source: California Energy Commission)
Like solar, geothermal energy generation also has applications on a smaller and distributed basis. Central heating and cooling systems using Geothermal Heat Pumps have been installed on buildings as small as single-family homes. Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat between the constant temperature of the earth and the building to maintain the building’s interior space conditions. Water is circulated between the building and the “ground-loop” piping buried underground. In the summer, the water picks up heat from the building and moves it to the ground. In the winter the water picks up heat from the ground and moves it to the building. (Source: NYSERDA).
Micro-hydro is hydroelectric electricity done on a small scale, with installations typically producing up to 100 kilowatts of electricity. Micro-hydro is an efficient and consistent renewable energy source, which needs only a small stream of flowing water to produce electricity.
If properly implemented, small-scale hydro systems will have a minimal ecological impact. No water reservoir is needed, no water is taken out of the stream, and they divert rather than block water flow, as opposed to larger environmentally detrimental hydroelectric dams. However, stream water is diverted away from a portion of the stream with micro-hydro installations, so proper caution must be applied to ensure there will be no damaging impact on the local ecology or civil infrastructure. (Source: Alternative Energy News)
Thin Film Solar
Thin film solar also uses the photovoltaic effect to produce energy; however, it differs from traditional PV technology in its lightness, efficiency, and durability. While thin film solar cells are currently less efficient than traditional PV, thin film layers can be as thin as a few nanometers, are highly durable, and due to their size, or lack thereof, are ideal for integrated building design.
Recently, engineers at Oregon State University made the announcement that they were able to print CIGS solar cells, a subset of photovoltaic solar cells, using an Inket printer. Inkjet printers could help make the future of solar energy even brighter by reducing raw material waste and lowering production costs.