Happening currently, in a galaxy not so far away, is solar energy innovation. While solar energy is an expanding field, its usage is low compared to fossil fuels. Solar accounts for 2% and fossil 60% of US power, respectively. Limitations for solar power include storage costs and accessibility to sunlight. However, recent developments may further enhance solar power’s capacity.
According to a recent ScienceDaily article, collaborations between Purdue University, Georgia Tech, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a new material that boosts solar power’s conversion into heat energy. Most photovoltaics generate power by directly converting solar energy into electricity, but solar to heat energy is another promising option.
Heat energy is created by directing several panels towards a cache of molten salt, which then transfers the stored heat to supercritical CO2, which spins a turbine. To make the turbines handle more heat, and spin more, developers changed the materials from stainless steel and nickel alloy to a ceramic/metal composite. Not only do these composites handle higher heat and pressure, but the scaling costs are also expected to be lower. In addition, such plants can store the heat energy for use overnight, a huge benefit.
It appears cutting-edge solar technology is not limited to those pesky TIE fighters!