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Why get solar panels?

  • Generate free, green electricity
  • Reduce your electricity bill by up to 64%
  • Get paid for what you don't use

Best solar technologies in 2024

  • Countries are increasingly developing and adopting solar power
  • Solar purification combines the sun’s UV rays and the heat the sun produces
  • Floating solar farms helps save on inhabitable space and produces significantly more energy
  • Bifacial solar panels convert sunlight into electricity using the photovoltaic effect
  • Solar trees are equipped with solar panels that generate and store clean energy from the sun

Solar technology has many benefits. Investment can help lower bills – with the average three-bedroom household saving £467 per year – as well as reduce our planet’s carbon footprint. 

The industry has recently experienced high levels of innovation and investment in both the private sector and from the government. 

We’re moving at a fast pace to generate new forms of solar technology, and it can be hard to keep up. This is where we come in. Below, you’ll see a full rundown of all the latest pieces of technology and how they’ll help us. 

However, if you’ve already done the research and are ready to invest in solar technology, simply fill in this form to receive quotes from a wide range of our trusted suppliers. 

New solar panel technology

The solar industry is always evolving, especially as the cost of solar panels continues to decline. Governments are increasingly developing and adopting solar power in a bid to become greener and meet their own net zero targets. 

The challenge, however, is many of these innovations are unknown, with the exception of solar panels. To help, you can find out everything about these solar technologies in more detail below. 

We’ll be covering:

  • Solar water purifiers
  • Floating solar farms
  • Solar skins
  • Wearable solar
  • Solar panels
  • Solar aeroplanes
  • Bifacial solar panels
  • Solar power through synthetic quartz crystals

Solar water purifiers 

Solar water purifiers are designed to help make unsafe water safe to drink. As it stands, 2 billion people currently drink contaminated water, according to the World Health Organisation.

Solar purification, as reported by Pure Water Tech, “combines the sun’s UV rays and the heat the sun produces. These elements heat the water almost to a boiling point and change the makeup of the water, heating pathogens and contaminants in the process.” 

Many solar water purifiers are already operational around the world. For example, a solar-powered desalination system was developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and in China can provide around seven litres of drinkable water per hour, for each square metre of the solar network. 

The recommended guidance for water consumption is between 2.7 and 3.7 litres per day, including the water in food, which makes up 20% of our fluid intake. That means for the average person, 2.6-2.7 litres would be adequate, meaning a 100m2 version of MIT’s solar network would supply enough clean drinking water for 2,213 people, every day. 

This technology has already been implemented in Kiunga, Kenya by a non-profit called GivePower. The system can provide 75,000 litres per day – enough to quench the thirst of more than 28,800 people. 

Floating solar farms

Floating photovoltaic systems is the most-efficient way to expand solar capacity, which is currently hampered by its focus on using the 29% of the Earth that is land. Floating solar farms enable most countries to harness the 71% of the Earth that’s covered by water – and exposed to sunlight. 

Floating solar farms helps save on inhabitable space and produces significantly more energy. Studies have shown that floating solar farms generate electricity up to 11% more efficiently than land-based panels, because the water acts as a coolant. 

Anhui, in eastern China, is home to the world’s biggest floating solar plant – a 150 MW system, which generates enough energy to power more than 40,000 homes. The region also boasts a 78 MW floating photovoltaic farm. 

Europe is now also taking notice and has started investing in such farms. The biggest European network is the 27.4MW network in Bomhofsplas, Netherlands, which opened in 2020.

The world’s five biggest largest floating solar plants are: 

  • Dezhou Dingzhuang floating solar farm, China: 320MW
  • Three Gorges New Energy floating solar farm, China: 150MW
  • CECEP floating solar farm, China: 70MW
  • Sembcorp floating solar farm, Singapore: 60MW
  • Sirindhorn Dam floating solar farm, Thailand: 45MW
Floating solar farms at sunset

Solar skin

Solar skin is a flexible, transparent material that is very thin but efficient in producing an electrical current when exposed to sunlight. 

They are created with a selective light filtration system that preserves up to 99% of the energy yielded from natural sunlight. This technology is currently being celebrated for its ability to allow ample sunlight to be filtered through the thin membrane, while retaining its opaque property at the same time. 

However, as reported by Just Solar, solar skins has an array of pros and cons: 

Pros

  • With solar skin, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds – saving 30-50% on electricity bills, while keeping the original design of your roof or even improving it visually 
  • As the name suggests, solar skins are compatible with any solar module on the market, savin you the restriction of purchasing only a specific brand or model
  • Solar skins can increase the durability of your solar panels. The layer of film also protects the underlying arrays from UV corrosion and chemical degradation

Cons

  • Naturally, an additional skin to your existing solar panels means an add-on cost. This downside might be negligible for homeowners who are looking to go green but are put off by the look of traditional solar panels
  • There’s a possibility that the extra PV skin might affect the efficiency of solar panels. Nonetheless, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab in the US are looking to improve efficiency through product R&D testing

Wearable solar

Wearable solar technology – also known as solar textiles – integrates solar panels into textiles, allowing users to harness solar energy through clothes or accessories. 

According to Green.org, the process involves “embedding photovoltaic cells or other energy-harvesting technologies directly into fabrics, enabling the conversion of sunlight into electrical energy.” 

Wearable solar technologies are relatively new, but they can be utilised in many industries, including outdoor recreation, healthcare and fashion. For outdoor recreation, wearable solar can help power portable devices, whereas in healthcare, they can be used to power medical devices and sensors. 

Nottingham Trent University researchers have developed solar cells, which are 3mm x 1.5mm, which can be embedded into yarn, which can then be turned into clothing. 200 cells can produce up to 80 miliwatts, which helped charge a Fitbit during trials. 

From the trials, the tech developers claimed that a clothing item interwoven with 2,000 of the wearable solar cells would be able to charge a smartphone. The cells are also coated with a waterproof resin, so they’re able to withstand the washing machine.

Solar aeroplanes 

Solar-powered aircrafts can be an aeroplane or blimp and use either a battery or hydrogen to store the energy produced by the solar cells. This then allows the plane to use the energy at night. 

Solar Impulse was the first solar-powered plane to make a trip around the world in 2015-16, flying from Abu Dhabi travelling to India, Myanmar, China, Japan, USA and back to Europe and Abu Dhabi, which was a significant achievement for solar aeroplanes. 

Most recently, in 2023, a solar-powered aircraft successfully completed its first high-altitude flight into the stratosphere. Phasa-35 has the wingspan of an airliner and is intended for surveillance and communications use, and was developed by Prismatic, located in Hampshire. 

The high-altitude flight lasted 24 hours and took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and has a 35-metre wingspan. 

It’s not the first time it has tried test flights. In February 2020, the plane completed its first flight successfully at an Australian Air Force test range. 

the PHASA-35, a solar plane, takes off

Bifacial solar panels 

A bifacial solar panel generates electricity from its front and rear surfaces and are typically made with transparent back sheets, allowing light to pass through. They are also sometimes constructed with frames that expose the back side. 

Bifacial solar panels convert sunlight into electricity using the photovoltaic effect, but each side has its own process. The front of the solar panel uses solar cells to absorb lights and generate an electric current, whereas the back generates electricity from light reflected from another surface, like the roof. 

The energy bifacial solar panels generate depends on its size and where and how it’s installed. The weather also plays a role, as does location, intensity and direction of sunlight, time of year, efficiency and quality of the panels. 

For a full rundown on bifacial solar panels, including pros, cons and costings, check out our Bifacial solar panels guide. 

Solar panels

The block of silicon that started it all, solar panels. While it was there at the very beginning of the renewable energy revolution and transition, doesn’t mean it’s incapable of evolving. 

An example of this includes Oxford University’s solar spin-off company Oxford PV, who achieved 28% efficiency for its perovskite-silicon 1cm2 cell – which is approximately 40-56% better than the solar industry’s standard efficiency of 18-20%. 

Oxford PV’s Dr Chris Case revealed in an interview with us last year about perovskite solar cells that the company has a “roadmap that extends beyond 30% efficiency”. 

These updates point to a future in which solar energy becomes more cost-effective so customers and companies are more likely to naturally gravitate towards it. 

Some advanced ground-mounted solar panels are also being introduced into public spaces, aptly named ‘solar trees’. These artificial trees are equipped with solar panels that generate and store clean energy from the sun. Solar trees are a costly investment, however, with prices of around £62,000 per structure. 

Solar panels on a slate roof under a blue sky

Solar power through synthetic quartz crystals

A solar-powered device has achieved temperatures over 1,000C, raising hope that manufacturing with fossil fuels could soon come to an end. 

The new concept uses synthetic quartz crystals to ‘trap’ solar energy at high temperatures to produce various materials using clean energy. These materials include glass, steel and ceramics, which need temperatures over 1,000C and account for nearly a quarter of the world’s energy consumption. 

The device was built by attaching the quartz crystals to an opaque silicon disk and made use of the thermal trap effect to harness sunlight at high levels of efficiency – which was previously unseen. 

Is solar the future?

Solar power is set to take over more of the renewable market, just as the popularity of fossil fuels fades in many developing countries – and it seems to hold the key to securing clean drinking water for the billions who don’t have it. 

As the dangers of climate change become increasingly obvious and a reliance on polluting fuel sources becomes unmanageable, countries are turning to solar for energy independence and a green future. 

And that’s wonderful, since leaps forward in green energy help all of us. Most recently, it was announced that renewable energy has exceeded 30% of the world’s electricity supply. 

It’s only going to grow, too, so if you want to benefit from the renewable revolution, just complete this form to receive solar panel quotes from local experts. 

Summary 

  • Wearable solar technology – also known as solar textiles – integrates solar panels into textiles
  • Solar water purifiers are designed to help make unsafe drinking water safer
  • Floating solar farms enable most countries to harness the 71% of the Earth that’s covered by water – and exposed to sunlight
  • Solar skin is a flexible, transparent material that is very thin, but efficient in producing an electrical current when exposed to sunlight
  • Solar Impulse was the first solar-powered plane to make a trip around the world in 2015-16, flying from Abu Dhabi
  • A bifacial solar panel generates electricity from its front and rear surfaces and are typically made with transparent back sheets
  • Some advanced ground-mounted solar panels are also being introduced into public spaces, aptly named ‘solar trees’
Written by:
Tamara Birch, senior writer, The Eco Experts
Tamara has written about environmental topics for more than four years. This includes advising small business owners on cost-effective ways, like solar panels and energy-efficient products to help them become more sustainable. 
Reviewed by:
Max joined The Eco Experts as content manager in February 2024. He has written about sustainability issues across numerous industries, including maritime, supply chain, finance, mining and retail. He has also written for  City AM, The Morning Star and the Daily Express.
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