Like most technologies nowadays, solar energy technology is advancing at a rapid rate. A recent report published by PV magazine projects solar to surpass gas and 2X Nuclear power by 2016. While solar energy has the potential to transform the energy sector, many consumers (even those who currently rely on solar energy) are unaware of what advancements have been made, and what advancements are expected in the future. As new solar technology hits the market, it is important for consumers to understand what these technologies mean to them. In this article, we will give a brief overview of the four generations of solar technology, and what these advancements mean for energy consumers.
First generation solar technology is what most people think of when they think solar. This generation is the earliest and most widespread. First generation solar cells typically rely on silicon as a semiconductor to covert solar energy into electricity. Solar panels installed on private properties, such as on rooftops, are usually from this generation of solar technology. The advantage of such technology is that it is still the cheapest solar technology available, and still quite efficient.
While currently limited in its commercial use, second generation solar technology is expected to make a major breakthrough in the market within the next decade. Although second generation materials are much more varied than their first generation counterparts, they share the advantages of being thinner, more flexible, and cheaper to produce. Unlike first generation technology, second generation technology can be bent and wrapped around buildings and structures, allowing for a more aesthetically pleasing look than current first generation solar panels. That second generation cells are also much thinner than first generations ones also makes second generation technology far more inconspicuous. While second generation technology has yet to make a big impact on most people’s energy needs, it is already commonly known through its use in solar-powered calculators and other small devices. The one disadvantage that has held back second generation technology, however, is its lower efficiency rate (compared to silicon cells) for converting solar energy into electricity. This problem, however, has largely been overcome in laboratories, and cheap, flexible, and efficient second generation solar power will likely dominate the market in coming years.
Third generation solar technology has only recently left the laboratory for private consumption. While much of this technology is still in development, it already promises an exciting future for solar energy consumers. The materials being used in third generation technology differ wildly from their predecessors, and include plastics and organic materials. These materials offer consumers the chance to invest in solar technology that is much cheaper to produce. Most excitingly for private consumers, perhaps, is the prospect of solar technology than can be homemade or even painted onto surfaces. Fourth generation technology, however, is still hindered by a number of drawbacks, primarily slow biodegradation and low efficiency. Until these hurdles are overcome, you can expect first and second generation technologies to dominate the solar energy market.
Fourth generation solar technology is where the future of solar energy lies. While this technology is still years from the marketplace, it offers some exciting prospects for consumers. The main focus of fourth generation technology is on quantum dot solar cells. Quantum dots are essentially minuscule crystals spread over a silicon base, which is in turn rotated at high speeds. The great advantage to this technology is its potential to vastly increase the efficiency of solar cells to convert energy to electricity, which will make them a particularly lucrative investment for consumers.
For those who are unfamiliar with the world of solar technology, its rapid advancements can be difficult to keep track of. But the future of solar energy is a promising and exciting place both for energy consumers and the environment. Knowing about these technologies now can help you prepare for their arrival on the market in the years to come.