I'm going to share my glimpse of the future of solar PV, if only to provoke ideas and maybe some actual development.
First, Wal-Mart and the Big Box stores (Lowes, Home Depot) all sell uniform sized propane tanks -- energy tanks -- for Joe to swap and even re-sell if he wants. They thus advance a uniform portable (and vendible) energy system (mostly for home grills and fireplaces).
Now imagine an electric energy cube (sure, a battery) of that size and general dimension, with uniform surface and "fit-in-ability" features, so that solar array owners could charge them up (enough to support a 100-mile electric car charge) and sell them just like Big Box stores sell propane tanks. In 5 years we'll be driving Nissan Leaf (100 mile electric cars) that cost $15,000 (thanks, Tata or Chinese!) and we will stop and swap energy cubes for them, even from side-of-the-road casual sellers (like fruit-stands alongside Georgia roadsides), and thus cubes will be charged up by Joe and his solar array.
Far-fetched? Well, look at this. And consider the new "battery-swap" innovation for Tesla's cars.
Catch the concept? Stored energy in an easily portable (like a propane tank) energy container (cube sounds cool) that anyone can fill (using electricity from millions of solar arrays) and sell.
Thus, even when venturing out into the country, where there are fewer fueling stations, every Joe can make money selling swappable energy cubes, because the sun shines everywhere, and thus prosperity is distributed everywhere. A wealth-deconcentrator, so to speak. And in such mass volume, prices are kept low.
Here's some other stuff that hopefully will bring us one step closer to "Grid Parity Day":
An intelligently designed national utility grid system.
Battery and other energy-storage info collected here and here.
Virtual energy storage concepts collected here.
Here's a very optimistic "California Booster" article that nicely describes higher-efficiency solar technologies. Here's one on "plastic solar." Here's another on "paintable solar." And there's this on "solar glass" for buildings.
Solar Flowers. Artificial Leaves, Solar Shingles and Spray-On Solar
Hopeful energy-development news for our future, including new-wave nukes, says Bill Gates from this company, noted in this article.
Here are announced technologies that may be "vaporware," or may actually go places (wish I was smart enough to pick the winner right now):
-- Making renewable natural gas using solar power. Here's the same company announcing it will be doing the same only consuming fouled waters in the process. Here's the company's explanation (sounds too good to be true, no?):
-- World’s Largest Solar Tower Power plant (featured in Seba’s “Solar Trillions” book). Google has invested $168 million in it. 173,000 heliostats will concentrate the sun's rays onto a solar tower standing approximately 450 feet (137 m) tall. It is expected to generate 392 MW of solar energy following its projected completion in 2013.
-- World's largest and perhaps simplest design, Passive Air Flow Solar Tower project. Claimed 60% efficient. "No feed stock needed to make this plant work." It just uses naturally flowing hot air. And it uses "marginal land" like dessert waste land. I'm betting the Saudi Arabians will jump on this, especially once exportable energy cubes are perfected. $750 million, and it was going to be built in Australia but, yes, you guessed it, American subsidies lured it to Arizona (once again, subsidies, and not comparative advantage and other free market determinants, drove the result).
-- Laser-based manufacturing improvement
-- Combined Solar-Thermal panels: I'd like independent sources to tell me if, on balance, these systems make economic sense. I'm guessing these folks only install these for rich greenies and heavily-subsidized buyers.
-- Combined Solar PV with Solar Thermal, Concentrated Solar PV
-- Combined Solar PV with Solar Thermal And here. Here, too (claiming 75% efficiency).
-- "Use recycled CO2, water and wind energy to make liquid fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel" -- as discussed here.
-- " Concentrating Photovoltaics (CPV) systems use mirrors or lenses to focus the sun's light onto a small area of photovoltaic material."
Air Thermal Based (no water needed!) Central Receiver Tower for CSP
Concentrated Solar Thermal and Base Load Power Claims (but no hard cost data supplied)
Light and infrared energy, transmittable by light beams ("E-Box")
Piezoelectric Technology (energy from noise, vibrations)
Micro-concentrated-solar-PV ("The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently validated greater than 41 percent efficiency at a concentration of 1,000 suns for tiny cells made by Semprius — one of the highest efficiencies recorded at this concentration. The energy conversion efficiency of a solar cell is the percentage of sunlight converted by the cell into electricity.... Semprius' triple-junction cells are made of gallium arsenide. Low-cost lenses concentrate the sun light onto the tiny cells 1,100 times. Their tiny size means they occupy only one-one thousandth of the entire solar module area, reducing the module cost. In addition, the use of a large number of small cells helps to distribute unwanted heat over the cell's structure, so there's no need for expensive thermal management hardware such as heat fins.")
Bumpy Nanoparticle Cells ("Researchers from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology - along with colleagues from Suntech Power Holdings - have announced the development of the world's most efficient broadband nanoplasmonic solar cells. The scientists improved the performance of existing thin-film cells by incorporating nucleated or "bumpy" gold and silver nanoparticles. By doing so, they were able to boost the cells' absolute efficiency up to 8.1 percent.")
The MLD (Maximum Light Detection) Principle: “relies on solar modules tracking the brightest position in the sky as precisely as possible to maximise energy yield. This is achieved by a patented control module, an acrylic pyramid (tetrahedron) with an edge length of 80 mm. It permanently measures the intensity and angle of the incident rays of light and continuously aligns the solar modules according to the current light conditions. This way, the modules also generate energy from diffuse light shining through the clouds, as well as light being reflected by water or snow surfaces. On average, the additional yield achieved with this method is up to 45% higher than with fixed solar panels and approximately 8% higher than with astronomical tracking.” (Source).
Deep cost-reduction technologies in Solar PV -- Biohybrid Solar Cells (biohybrid cells that produce electrical current when exposed to sunlight).
A cool claim that I hope is not exaggerated: Plastic to oil.
November, 2012: Kite power