Solar technology – new developments

A short overview of new developments in solar technology

In the last twenty years, there has been an exponential increase in the use of solar energy across Africa. Almost every sector in trade and industry has started exploring the use of solar technology in their business with many organisations already reaping the benefits. Not only does solar energy reduce a company’s carbon footprint, it also delivers long term financial savings.

Most businesses that have embraced the technology have done so via rooftop or ground-mounted solar systems with some grid-tied and others completely off-grid. However, with many new developments in solar technology on the horizon, the increase could soon be much greater.

This blog post provides a short overview of new developments that are currently under way in solar technology. Some of them are already available, while others are still being refined and will only be available at a later stage.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics

Some buildings have been constructed with a particular aesthetic in mind and companies don’t wish to change that appearance. In some cases, it is possible to install solar in a way that is hardly visible, but this depends on the building structure.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) are expected to provide a new dimension to the aesthetic aspect of solar installations. Customized panels could be fitted into architectural features such as canopies and terraces.

However, the most versatile product is PV glass which is manufactured from transparent photovoltaic cells. The PV glass is toughened and lets daylight enter a building while producing energy unseen. This feature could be installed when refurbishing a commercial space. Imaginatively, incorporating solar technology into architecture has many advantages. The sun provides is an unlimited source of energy while a layer of PV panels contributes to improved sound insulation, thermal optimization and is a great step towards a zero-carbon footprint.

Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels

Dams and reservoirs often have some of the largest available surface areas on a property, and can be used to house a floating solar plant. The first commercial use of floating solar panels was in Japan in 2007. New Southern Energy developed the first floating solar plant in South Africa on the Marlenique farm.

Floating PV solar panels produce excellent amounts of energy without taking up valuable land or real estate. Solar panels generally use an air-cooling system to prevent them from overheating. But in the floating version, the water contributes to electricity production by 10% due to the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels.

The cost of maintaining the panels of a floating system is less expensive because the water helps to keep the panels clean. The shade cast by the panels helps to reduce excessive algae forming. Additionally, the expanse of the floating solar panels reduces the surface evaporation of water.

Solar fabric

Research indicates that solar cells are more effective if they are in layers of up to four. This allows them to harness up to 46% of the sun’s energy instead of the standard panels. However, this type of panel is proving to be too inconvenient and expensive for commercial use.

The solution could be provided by the latest innovation in solar technology. Solar fabric is incredibly thin and lightweight compared to a standard photovoltaic panel. But most importantly, solar fabric is flexible. It can easily be used on domed or circular structures. Other uses include awnings over doorways, car parks, tents, and window shades. Its lack of weight makes it ideal for covering large expanses.

At the moment, the efficiency of solar fabric to capture the sun’s energy is approximately 13%. However, solar fabric has been proven to be more effective in low light levels. This technology is expected to be developed further so that it can be used in commercial systems in years to come.

Solar LED Lighting

Solar-powered LED lighting is transforming streets and pathways in countries such as America. LED solar lighting has the benefit of working off-grid. The savings in expenditure over a lifespan of at least twenty-five years are considerable. There are further savings to be made during the installation of off-grid lighting. There is no need to use traditional trench and cable installations that are generally costly. Furthermore, the latest technology in LED solar-powered lighting has improved battery function and electronics.

Backup systems can keep lighting functional for several days. Efficiency is greatly improved through controllable electronics. Lighting can be customized to suit any location or local weather patterns. One of the main advantages of LED solar lighting is public safety. It can be used in areas that would usually be inaccessible or difficult to adapt with conventional lighting. Battery-powered LED solar lighting is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

These are just a few of many developments being advanced in solar technology, with many more expected in years to come.


Solar energy can easily provide substantial amounts of inexpensive, green electricity. Through new technology and continual improvement, solar photovoltaic cells are becoming even more versatile. New solar technology is demonstrating the versatility of this powerful energy source. Practical applications from architecture to street lighting are helping save energy and costs. They are also clear indications that the future is solar-powered.